Daily Management Review

Covid-19 Hit Airlines Trying Hard To Convert Empty Passenger Cabins Into Cargo Space


Air freighters are the only planes that can now be seen in the air globally amidst the global coronavirus pandemic.
This segment of airline business have always found the back seat as passenger air travel is mostly showcased in lavish advertising aimed at attracting business travelers and tourists. The profit margin in the air cargo segment is significantly lower than the passenger segment.
But now airlines that are facing the brunt of the travel bans and restrictions imposed by governments all across the world to prevent the spread of the pandemic, are now looking at modifying the passenger carrying cabins and its interiors to make them compatible to carry cargo. This is proving to be a surprise windfall for companies engaged in aircraft maintenance since they have largely been accustomed to keep passenger jets flying, according to reports citing information from industry executives.
Among those airlines that are stripping out seats to make space to carry cargo or are adding nets and storage devices to cabins include the likes of Germany’s Lufthansa Technik AG, Canada’s Avianor, Hong Kong’s Group and Belgium’s Akka Technologies.
“We have great demand. We have more than 40 airlines requesting a proposal,” said Jens Weinreich, product manager at Lufthansa Technik, which has converted 18 cabins for various carriers and expects to modify 100 more.
While most passenger seats in some of its 777s is being removed by Lufthansa-owned Austrian Airlines, freight makeovers are being examined by Polish LOT and Delta Air Lines.
One of the solutions for airlines in the post lockdown period, is to create mixed cabins with passengers and cargo being transported in the same flight - just as in a station-wagon, said Leeham analyst Bjorn Fehrm.
“Freight prices can go back down quite a bit and it still makes sense,” Fehrm said of the conversions.
In the past however, demand for cargo has been fickle and the industry outlook on trade, which drives the cargo industry, is largely uncertain because of the coronavirus pandemic, even though there was a 22 per cent rise last week in China-U.S. freight rates primarily because of an increased demand for protective gear, said freight Investor Services.
“We have seen a real resurgence of freight in the past month ... but we are on the edge of a global recession and the normal pattern of recession should start to take hold,” Stuart Hatcher, chief operating officer of IBA Aero, told a webinar
Demand from Air Canada has helped overcome the slowdownm said Avianor, which specializes in maintenance and cabins. A new scheme to transform cabins into temporary bays for freight pallets has been announced by European plane maker Airbus.
 “For the time being, this will generate business for engineering houses such as ourselves. In the mid-term, the traffic will take time to recover,” board member Charles Champion, a former Airbus engineering head, said.