Cathay Pacific Cargo is converting two more Boeing 777 passenger aircraft to carry cargo on the floor of their passenger cabins, bringing the airline’s ‘preighter’ fleet up to six.
The move follows concerns about capacity ahead of the peak season. Recovering passenger services across the Americas and Europe means that there is additional belly capacity for cargo in those regions, and some carriers can withdraw their ‘preighters’ from operation. But the picture is not so immediately rosy for the Asia Pacific region, as George Edmunds, Cathay Pacific GM Cargo Commercial, explains. ‘Prior to the pandemic, around 50 per cent of our freight was carried in the bellies of our passenger flights,’ he says. ‘However, because of the reduction to our passenger schedule as a result of the pandemic, more than 90 per cent of our freight is now carried on dedicated cargo flights, including cargo-only-passenger operations.
‘We hope that the amount of cargo that we carry in the bellies of our passenger aircraft will increase and we have an expectation that we will offer around 30 per cent of our normal passenger operations by Q4 – that still leaves a shortfall in vital belly space against anticipated demand for the peak.’
On top of that, while the worst of the recent port disruption in the Greater Bay Area of the Chinese Mainland may be over, the ripples to the supply chain are significant and may lead to greater demand for air-cargo capacity.
John Cheng, Head of Cargo Markets and Products says: ‘We have sought to offer as much capacity as we can during the pandemic by optimising our freighter schedule, running belly-only cargo flights in our passenger aircraft and through the four 777 “preighters”.’
The two aircraft will be flown to the HAECO engineering facility in Xiamen, where the seats from the Economy and Premium Economy cabins will be removed and stored. The floor is marked out to show the permitted cargo storage areas under regulatory and safety requirements, and cargo nets and bags are secured to the seat tracks. The additional cargo space allows an additional 12 tonnes of general cargo to be carried.
The new ‘preighters’ are expected to operate mainly around the Asia Pacific region and Transpacific routes. ‘The aircraft will enable us to carry more general cargo from South East Asia, particularly Vietnam, and the Chinese mainland. They will also help support Hong Kong Post,’ says Cheng. ‘This business tends to be shipments that are ideal for passenger cabin loading because of their size and general cargo nature, which fit with the restrictions of what cargo can be carried in the passenger cabin. These two aircraft will offer additional capacity and the agility to contend with sudden spikes in demand.’