Cathay Pacific adds cargo capacity in passenger cabin

First flight carries urgently needed medical supplies to LAX in Economy Class seats

Cathay Pacific is providing more cargo capacity by using the cabins of its passenger aircraft, its latest solution in response to the global demand for air cargo to carry supplies for the fight against COVID-19.

While Cathay Pacific Cargo’s 20-strong Boeing 747 freighter fleet has been flying nonstop from the beginning of the pandemic, demand also resulted in aircraft being used as cargo-only freighters to ship medical supplies and PPE (personal protective equipment) using the cargo belly hold. Meanwhile, the airline obtained special approvals from the Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department (HKCAD) to create more cargo capacity in passenger cabins as well.

Loading cargo into passenger cabin at Hong Kong International Airport

On 23 April, the first of these passenger cabin cargo flights took place. A Boeing 777 passenger aircraft flew from Hong Kong to Los Angeles with medical face shields loaded into the Economy Class cabin. Boxes were loaded via the aircraft’s passenger door using a catering truck, then manually secured into seats.

Cathay Pacific has obtained approvals from HKCAD to operate B777s in this manner for further flights. The ability to use the passenger cabins adds much-needed capacity at a time of urgent demand, according to Cathay Pacific General Manager Programs & Airworthiness Paul Barwell. ‘It is estimated that loading additional cargo on the passenger seats provides 30 per cent additional capacity on top of the belly cargo alone,’ he said.

General Manager Cargo Commercial Nelson Chin said: ‘A lot of colleagues worked around the clock over the past few weeks. My heartfelt thanks go to everyone behind the scenes – all the unsung heroes who made this all possible, whether on the ground in Hong Kong or Los Angeles, or in the air.’

Chin added: ‘This “first” for Cathay Pacific will enable us to transport even more precious cargo to those in need.’

To further meet demand, the project team is seeking permissions from relevant authorities to expand the initiative and improve the process. ‘We are also seeking approval to use our Airbus passenger fleet,’ said Chin. ‘We expect there will be a need for such solutions over the coming months when we will be operating short of our normal passenger schedule.’