Air Canada Has Operated Over 1,500 Cargo Only Flights Since March

As part of a webinar hosted by Aviation Week, Air Canada President & CEO Calin Rovinescu discussed numerous developments for the airline amidst the global health crisis. One such topic was the success of the airline’s pivot to cargo operations due to the drop in passenger traffic. It’s undoubtedly been a success for Canada’s largest airline, and there are no plans to stop any time soon.

Air Canada Express converted Dash 8 cargo
Air Canada’s converted Dash 8s can hold 17,960 lbs of cargo. Photo: Air Canada

“This has been one of the bright lights amongst a sea of bad news – the cargo operation has been phenomenal.” – Calin Rovinescu, Air Canada President & CEO

We first reported on this news back in early April with Air Canada’s first Boeing 777 modifications. Initially, the three 777s were transformed in order to carry double the amount of cargo they would typically be capable of.

Air Canada
The airline has removed seating from some planes to carry cargo. Photo: Air Canada

A quick reaction and a small victory

The airline did this by removing 422 seats on each aircraft, creating loading zones, and introducing netting. The turnaround time that Air Canada was working within was just six days. The airline subsequently converted three Airbus A330s to take more cargo, which was done “amazingly fast.”

“We were among the first, if not the first to do this…I’m very proud of what the team did – pivoting into [cargo] very, very quickly” Rovinescu boasts during the videoconference. He adds that, to date, his airline has operated more than 1,500 cargo-only flights since March.

Rovinescu continues by saying that this ‘pivot’ to cargo has been a phenomenal success story for the airline. However, he does admit that the revenue is not the same magnitude as with passenger operations.

“We’re super busy with [cargo operations]. We have allocated our sales teams that usually do passenger revenue to help on the cargo side.”

Men put up netting
Nets to secure cargo have been added. Photo: Air Canada

The airline’s CEO also said that he was pleased to see the “evolution of the acceptance of the direct relationship with suppliers, manufacturers, and big-box players of this world.” While this statement was a little vague but we do know that “big players” like Airbus and smaller DeHavilland Canada have offered conversion programs to assist airlines in proper modifications to cargo-only operations.

Not stopping anytime soon

Air Canada has no plans to stop this anytime soon, with Rovinescu saying that he’s on the lookout for opportunities like this and aiming to benefit from them.

Even once the airline begins to have more “passenger visibility,” Rovinescu says that things don’t appear to be coming back to 2019 levels for a while – with expectations that cargo operations like this will continue through the end of this summer or even the end of this year.  Hopefully, he’s wrong (in a good way), and passengers will return to the skies sooner than expected. Until then, cargo will have to be the consolation prize.

Are you impressed with the airline’s ability to quickly shift to cargo operations? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.