American Airlines Revisits Operating Cargo-Only Flights After 36 Years

American Airlines is operating its first cargo-only flight for the first time in over 35 years, as the airline continues routes to ensure the supply of life-saving cargo materials. The first of these flights will leave Dallas-Fort Worth for Frankfurt tonight.

American 777
American Airlines is using its widebody fleet for cargo-only flights. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

What are the details?

Just because passengers can no longer fly between destinations does not mean that lucrative cargo transport has to stop. American Airlines has joined other airlines in running empty cargo flights to ensure that essential medical supplies, US military mail, and other goods can be delivered.

However, this news is significant for American Airlines as technically this is the first time they have run a ‘cargo-only’ flight in 36 years. The last time American Airlines operated a cargo flight was in 1984 before it retired its Boeing 747 freighter fleet.

Later today, a Boeing 777-300 will be departing the American Airlines hub of Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and heading to Frankfurt Airport (FRA) tomorrow. Whilst it is still configured as a passenger aircraft, it will not be carrying any commercial passengers (only essential personnel) but a full cargo load.

The aircraft can take 14 pallets of cargo and will carry over 100,000 pounds (45,300 kilograms) of goods. As there are no passengers and no passenger bags, the aircraft can take significantly more weight. The service has been so popular that American Airlines is also planning a second trip almost immediately after the aircraft lands back in Dallas-Fort Worth.

AA 777-300ER
The aircraft will return back to Germany with another full load on the 22nd of March. Photo: James Rowson / Wikimedia Commons

Why are they operating this flight?

Speaking to media in a press release, Rick Elieson, President of Cargo and Vice President of International Operations discussed by American Airlines was operating these cargo flights.

“We have a critical role to play in keeping essential goods moving during this unprecedented time, and we are proud to do our part and find ways to continue to serve our customers and our communities,”

American Airlines has been deemed critical infrastructure for the duration of the coronavirus crisis, according to the airline in its media statement.

“Challenging times call for creative solutions, and a team of people across the airline has been working nonstop to arrange cargo-only flight options for our customers.”

Cargo is incredibly lucrative for airlines and has many advantages compared to passenger transport. For one, cargo flights are not necessarily time-sensitive and can be delayed with little complaint. Cargo also does not need any food, entertainment, seats or air conditioning during the flight, and are good earners for the airlines (low-cost-cargo-carriers don’t really exist).

american airlines
American Airlines has plans to operate many routes as cargo only until the end of the crisis. Photo: American Airlines

Additionally, despite not carrying any passengers the cargo flights still require full crew support from baggage handlers to pilots to traffic controllers. This means more staff still employed and operating during challenging market conditions. And, of course, many businesses are still relying on these cargo operations to deliver goods to their customers.

“It’s an honor to be part of these cargo-only flights,” said Ken Jarrell, Fleet Service Clerk, Cargo Services – DFW. “They represent much-needed aid for the world and hope for our team. Our team members across the airline are ready and willing to do what it takes to make sure people have the things they need during these unprecedented times.”

American Airlines will also be using its domestic fleet to operate essential cargo links throughout the United States, even if the country goes into lockdown.

What do you think of this news?