Cathay Pacific Cargo is converting two more Boeing 777 passenger aircraft to carry cargo on the floor of the passenger cabins, which will bring the airline’s ‘preighter’ fleet to six.
The Hong Kong flag carrier said the move follows concerns about capacity ahead of the peak season. It added that despite more belly capacity across Americas and Europe with passenger services slowly recovering and some airlines withdrawing freighter operations, the picture is not so rosy for Asia Pacific, as George Edmunds, Cathay Pacific’s GM for cargo commercial, explained.“Prior to the pandemic, around 50 percent of our freight was carried in the bellies of our passenger flights,’ Edmunds noted. “However, because of the reduction to our passenger schedule as a result of the pandemic, more than 90 percent of our freight is now carried on dedicated cargo flights, including cargo-only-passenger operations.”
Even if Cathay increases its passenger operations back to 30 percent of its normal numbers, George said its still leaves a shortfall in vital belly space versus the anticipated demand heading into peak season.
With the new additions to its preighter fleet, Cathay’s Edmunds predicts more demand for air cargo transport, citing recent port disruptions in the Suez and Guangdong that have created ripples to the supply chain.
“The outbreak has led to disruption and a backlog to global shipping that is bigger than the earlier blockage to the Suez Canal. And while the worst of the port disruption is over, the ripples in the supply chain are likely to be felt for quite a while, and the question of capacity may again come to the fore with more eyes turning to air,” Edmunds noted in a statement.
The two 777Fs 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 additional cargo space will allow an additional 12 tonnes of payload capacity on each flight.
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,’ John Cheng, Head of Cargo Markets and Products.
“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,” he added.