Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

Airlines are strapping cargo into passenger seats to make up lost revenue

Passenger airlines devastated by the decline in air travel during the pandemic are making up some of their lost revenue by strapping cargo into passenger seats and overhead bins of planes that would otherwise be grounded.

The big picture: It could be several years before passenger air traffic returns to normal, but the global demand for medical supplies, along with disruptions in manufacturing supply chains and increased e-commerce, means airlines have a chance, at least temporarily, to offset some of those losses by transporting more freight.


What's happening: Since the pandemic began, some 150 airlines have been operating cargo-only "ghost flights," using passenger jets to transport freight, according to Logistics Management magazine.

  • Icelandair Group, for example, in a deal with logistics provider DB Schenker, removed the passenger seats from three B-767 aircraft to transport medical equipment from China to Europe and the U.S., even slapping Schenker's name on the side of its planes.
  • Emirates SkyCargo began loading cargo in the overhead bins and seats of its B777-300ER passenger aircraft in early May in response to growing customer demand.
  • Other airlines, including KLM, SWISS, Qantas, Air Canada and Cathay Pacific, have also modified some passenger aircraft to transport cargo.
  • Lufthansa even has a name for the converted planes: "preighters," per Logistics Management.
“The cargo business is keeping aircraft, which would otherwise be parked, in the air and given us all more hope ... that we will come out of this.”
Dominic Kennedy, Virgin Atlantic’s head of cargo operations, told Logistics Management

Zoom in: United Airlines said cargo revenue was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal second quarter.

  • Total revenue plunged 87% in April, May and June, but cargo revenue was up 36% as United flew 3,800 international cargo-only flights during the period.
  • "I mean, who would have ever thought we could do something like that?" CEO Scott Kirby said on an investor call, praising employees' resiliency.

Background: Passenger airlines have always carried commercial cargo — along with luggage and occasional pets — inside the belly holds of their planes. But when passenger traffic collapsed in early March, that airfreight capacity disappeared.

  • Yet as the virus was spreading, demand soared for personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and gowns, most of which is made in China.
  • Travel restrictions also snarled international shipping, stranding cargo containers in ports worldwide.
  • And as people hunkered down, they did more online shopping, boosting demand for fast goods delivery.
  • "What COVID-19 caused was a huge backlog of shipments because the world stood still for awhile," Aditi Mehta, whose company, PROS, provides revenue management tools for airlines, tells Axios.

For the record: The Federal Aviation Administration in April approved the use of overhead bins, storage closets and under-seat areas in the passenger portion of aircraft for lightweight pieces on cargo-only flights.

  • In May it expanded the rule to allow airlines to place cargo — with restrictions — in passenger seats when no passengers are on board.

What to watch: The cargo business is notoriously erratic — even more so now — and the head of the International Air Transport Association warned in a statement this week of continued turbulence ahead.

  • The rush to get personal protective equipment (PPE) has subsided and the economic recovery remains slow.
  • “Cargo is, by far, healthier than the passenger markets but doing business remains exceptionally challenging," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's Director General and CEO.

In photos: Brazilians rally against Bolsonaro as COVID deaths top 500,000

Demonstrators took to the streets in at least 22 of Brazil’s 26 states to protest President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the pandemic — as COVID-19 cases surged past 500,000 on Saturday, per AP.

The big picture: Brazil has the world's second-highest coronavirus death toll and third-highest number of cases. Only 12% of the country's population has been vaccinated against the virus, AP notes.

Keep reading... Show less

Major companies ask Colorado residents not to apply for remote positions

Major companies have said in recent job postings that Colorado residents are ineligible to apply for certain remote positions because a new state law requires businesses to disclose the expected salary or pay range for positions, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Why it matters: The law, which went into effect in January, is meant to help close the gender wage gap and to promote wage transparency for employees, but companies have said Coloradans need not apply to avoid disclosing the information.

Keep reading... Show less

In photos: Communities across nation celebrate Juneteenth

People across the country are celebrating Juneteenth National Independence Day.

The big picture: The date, June 19, memorializes when some of the last enslaved people in Texas learned about their freedom under the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865.

Keep reading... Show less

Separate and unequal paths to business

When a bank turned down George Johnson for a business loan, he got creative. He returned and told the bank he needed $250 to take his wife on a vacation — and was approved. Then he invested the cash in his business, which became the first Black enterprise to trade on the American Stock Exchange.

Why it matters: The highways to success in the U.S. market economy — in entrepreneurship, corporate leadership and wealth creation — are often punctuated with roadblocks and winding detours for people of color.

Keep reading... Show less

Attempting to reform gig work via co-ops

Ride-hailing service The Drivers Cooperative recently debuted in New York City, claiming that its lack of VC funding would result in better driver pay and lower passenger costs.

Why it matters: TDC’s approach is a direct rebuke to the venture capital-fueled gig economy model.

Keep reading... Show less

Conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi elected Iran's president

Hardliner Ebrahim Raisi easily won Friday's presidential election in Iran, recording 62% of the vote with more than 90% of ballots counted.

Why it matters: Currently the head of Iran's judiciary, Raisi is a close confidant of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and has the support of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). His victory solidifies him as a leading candidate to succeed Khamenei, though Friday's low turnout speaks to the disillusionment of many Iranian voters.

Keep reading... Show less

Juneteenth and the country enslaved labor built on the backs of Black Americans

Juneteenth, a once-obscure commemoration of emancipation of enslaved people in Texas, has transformed into an annual reminder about how slavery robbed Black Americans of generational wealth.

Why it matters: That lack of generational wealth still denies Black families the economic security that many white families take for granted.

Keep reading... Show less

Biden will meet with U.S. financial regulators on Monday

President Biden will meet with financial regulators on Monday.

Driving the news: "The meeting will cover regulatory priorities including climate-related financial risk and agency actions to promote financial inclusion and to responsibly increase access to credit," said press secretary Jen Psaki, according to a press pool report.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories