Air New Zealand Considers Converting 777s To Freighters

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As demand for travel plummets, one of the unsung pillars of the aviation industry is coming to the fore. Freight, the often neglected offshoot of the industry, is suddenly the new golden child. Passengers may have dried up, but the demand for goods continues. Airlines, keen to seize opportunities, are stepping up. Air New Zealand is an example. The role Air New Zealand now finds itself playing underscores the wider role airlines play in our global supply chains. This role isn’t necessarily new, it’s just nobody took much notice before.

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Air New Zealand is converting a passenger 777 into a freighter (file photo). Photo: Air Canada

Air New Zealand to convert to 777-200ER into a freighter

Suddenly freight is in the spotlight and is helping to prop up airlines. So much so that Air New Zealand is converting one of its Boeing 777-200ERs into a freighter. The airline has 16 Boeing 777s, including eight 777-200ERs. But they’ve always been used to ferry passengers around the globe. Freight has been a sideline, tucked below decks. But with passengers thin on the ground and Air New Zealand operating a bare minimum of flights, freight is proving a lifeline for the airline.

Business is now brisk enough to warrant converting a 777-200ER into a dedicated freighter. A spokesperson for Air New Zealand told Simple Flying;

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“There’s strong demand for air freight and our teams are exploring every option to maximize the potential of our fleet.”

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An Air New Zealand 777-200ER will be solely dedicated to produce rather than passengers. Photo: GB_NZ via Wikimedia Commons.

New Zealand’s clean and green reputation means time-sensitive perishable goods are among its biggest exports. These exports include meat and dairy products. And with many people cooling their heels at home, more than a few of us will be turning to New Zealand’s excellent wines. It’s a good opportunity Air New Zealand can maximize.

According to a report in Forbes, Air New Zealand has been operating cargo-only flights between Auckland and Shanghai. To date, they’ve been using the cargo holds on passenger aircraft. The airline has been sending its country’s fresh produce and food into China. Medical supplies and PPE are coming back on the return flights.

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The role airline freight plays in global supply chains

The current pandemic has brought many issues to the fore. One of those issues is the extent to which the world relies on airlines to carry freight. They are an integral part of the global supply chain. The cancellation of so many flights has highlighted this dependency.

While, theoretically, people can live without Sauv Blanc, there are some things people cannot live without. Food, medicines, and warm clothing are among those.

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Freight is suddenly the poster boy for the aviation industry. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons.

As a net exporter of food, this crisis underscores the role countries like New Zealand and airlines like Air New Zealand can play in helping feed countries that are net importers of food.

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And being a high profile team New Zealand player, Air New Zealand is actively helping as many local businesses and producers to get on-board as it can.

Air New Zealand lets small business book small freight shipments

While China is a key market, Air New Zealand is offering freight flights to most of its regular destinations. It is also reducing the barriers to entry for potential exporters. It is letting small and medium businesses who may not be regular Air New Zealand customers ship freight on dedicated freight flights. Individual shipments can be as small as one pallet.

The airline also says even smaller exporters can work with freight forwarders who can consolidate several small shipments onto a single pallet.

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Air New Zealand will ship individual shipments as small as a single pallet. Photo: jbsa.mil

Airlines everywhere look at freight with renewed interest

Air New Zealand is hardly Robinson Crusoe here. Airlines everywhere are suddenly renewing their focus on their freight divisions. While it’s great to see a vital but neglected part of the aviation industry shine, there has been a high price to pay to get here.

For airlines like Air New Zealand, the decision to convert passenger aircraft into freighters is prompted by several factors. At the core is the need for revenue and ensuring the airline’s survival. But the airline is also contributing to the wider social good. By keeping trade routes open, Air New Zealand helps prop up exporters at home and in reciprocal countries. The trade generates cash that filters down into households and sustains families.

An economist would talk about demand circles. Other people could say that by getting into freight, airlines like Air New Zealand are helping to feed people. That’s something the aviation industry could be well pleased about.

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