Canada’s flag carrier has completed a milestone of 10,000 cargo-only flights since the start of the pandemic. As the carrier was hampered by the overall reduced travel demand environment, coupled with travel restrictions in effect, it moved over to start flying cargo in the early days of the crisis. In fact, the airline has gone very far in its cargo-only flights, including removing seats on several aircraft to create more cargo capacity on its widebody jets, and is preparing to induct dedicated freighter aircraft this fall.
Air Canada reaches milestone for cargo-only flying
On July 5th, Air Canada Cargo reached a milestone 10,000th cargo-only flight since the start of the crisis. AC7251 will market the occasion and fly nonstop from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport (YYZ) to Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Jason Berry, Vice President of Cargo at Air Canada, stated the following on the milestone:
“It is remarkable that Air Canada is marking its 10,000th cargo-only flights since March 2020, a major accomplishment under the difficult circumstances. The pandemic changed our business at unprecedented speed, and the collaboration and creativity across branches and teams has been a defining moment for the Cargo group, and all of Air Canada. The cargo-only flights, which include both scheduled and on-demand flights, have helped provide stability in the global supply chain at a time when distributing essential and vital supplies was critical.”
Air Canada started flying cargo-only flights after it became clear that the drastic reduction in air passenger flights had left a void in the air cargo market. Air Canada was one of the first airlines to jump onto the cargo-only trend.
In the early days of the crisis, most cargo-only flights catered to critical medical and humanitarian supplies. While those items continue to fly onboard passenger aircraft, they are also most suited for transportation onboard passenger aircraft.
Using passenger jets temporarily as cargo aircraft has some limitations. For one, all the loading of the jet has to be done via the boarding doors, which means larger pieces of cargo cannot enter the main cabin, and as a result, airlines mainly focused on flying cargo in the belly. There are also weight limitations to the kind of cargo that can fit into the passenger cabin.
Turning to medical supplies, things like masks, surgical gowns, IV tubing, and other supplies are small, lightweight, and can easily be packed into the main passenger cabin – with or without the seats.
To keep the supply chain moving, Air Canada decided to reconfigure some passenger cabins. The airline took some unneeded widebody aircraft, removed the seats from the interior, and made other modifications to support cargo-only flying.
Among the 10,000 cargo-only flights Air Canada has flown, they include a mix of regularly scheduled operations and special on-demand cargo flights. The more recent shipments have included vital goods like vaccines, though Air Canada has also flown food, mail, and in an extraordinary flight, pets back home to Australia.
The bulk of the cargo-only flying occurred on Boeing 777, 787, and Airbus A330-300 aircraft. The airline reconfigured 11 aircraft – all Boeing 777s or Airbus A330-300s – with removed seats to allow for lighter cargo to enter the passenger cabin.
Dedicated freighters are coming
With Air Canada deciding to move away from passenger operations utilizing the Boeing 767-300ER, it is now turning to use those planes as cargo jets. The airline has sent several 767-300ERs for conversion to freighter aircraft.
Air Canada plans to operate dedicated freighters starting this fall. As Mr. Berry added:
“As passenger flights pick up, we look forward to continuing to serve our cargo customers and facilitating the movement of goods by air through belly capacity and continued cargo-only flying as we prepare for the arrival of our first Boeing 767-300ER freighters in the fall.”
With Canada making excellent progress on its vaccinations, the country could see a reopening before the fall. When that time arrives, Air Canada will need all the planes it has to support passenger flying. This will require the airline to pull out some of the converted widebodies from the cargo-only schedule and put them back into the passenger configuration for operations.
The dedicated 767 freighters will help make up for that lost capacity. And, with the jets configured specially to be able to fly cargo, this will give Air Canada more flexibility with its jets and allow to serve cargo customers with more reliable, more predictable, and enhanced capacity that will allow it to move beyond some of the pandemic-era cargo and into a post-crisis world of flying a variety of freight.
What do you make of Air Canada’s cargo-only milestone? Let us know in the comments!