Whatever you call it nowadays, cargo-only passenger flights are increasingly being operated by airlines now as a means to adapt to a new normal.
Dutch airline KLM is no exception. The carrier has responded to the pandemic by operating cargo in cabin (CIC) flights with medical goods and PPE material secured with plastic sheeting and straps on seats. Initially it used three B747 combis, which have been retired since then, and is now utilising its triple sevens.
“Initially, these flights (more than 150 so far) were operated on the airline’s remaining three KLM Boeing 747 Combis. Now that these aircraft have been retired from our royal blue fleet, however, the Boeing 777s have taken over. Since they are also fully operational for passenger flights, flight safety is a major concern. Boxes must be loaded into the seats with enormous care to avoid damaging the interior, seats and entertainment systems,” KLM expressed in a statement.
The Dutch airline has partnered with its long-time supplier Trip & Co to design a ‘user-friendly, easy-to-install (and remove)’ seat bag, based on its earlier cargo in cabin experience, fine-tune to KLM’s specific needs. The product has been submitted to the Dutch Civil Aviation Authority (IL&T) for approval and authorisation under Art. 71(1) of Regulation (EU) 2018/1139 (EASA).
“The bags not only protect the interior, but also double the loading capacity on the seats, reduce physical strain during handling and prevent plastic waste,” the airline noted. Versions vary for single, double or triple-seat.
KLM received the first set of 172 cargo seat bags on 8 April and took its first operational flight with the seat bags from Shanghai to Amsterdam on 13 April, carrying about 950 boxes (10 tonnes) of medical relief goods and Covid-19 test kits.
“Thanks to close collaboration between many different KLM departments and between KLM and Trip & Co, this innovative concept became reality, passed the official tests and received authorisation in record time. This ‘just-in-time’ operation meets the need for extra cargo capacity for medical equipment (including PPE and vaccine equipment),” the carrier noted.
Ton Veltman, KLM cargo in cabin project manager, commented: “It remains extremely inspiring for me to be part of the close-knit team working on Cargo in Cabin. We have been active for over a year now, with involvement throughout KLM and including our partner Trip & Co. By doubling CIC capacity on our 777s, we now have capacity similar to what we had on our 747s. I’m proud of the many KLM colleagues who have made this innovation happen and of the smart and exceptional product that we developed and delivered with them and Trip & Co. This is an example of creativity and perseverance that will be key in the years to come.”
Edwin de Jongh, commercial chief of Trip & Co, adds: “It reminds me of the ‘quick change solution of the seventies’: within an hour, the cabin is transformed from ‘cargo’ to a place ready to welcome passengers for a comfortable flight.”