South Korea’s Asiana Airlines announced today that it had converted two of its 13 Airbus A350-900s into cargo planes as it looks to expand its air freight business. By doing this, each of the aircraft will now carry an extra five tons of cargo.
According to Asiana, sales from its freight division reached a record-breaking 2.14 trillion won ($1.9 billion), up 64% from the previous year’s figures. The cargo conversions were also done in preparation for the worldwide distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.
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Asiana added more cargo flights
As well as the two passenger planes that were converted to carry cargo last year, Asiana also used non-cargo planes to transport essential PPE and South Korean exports, adding 849 flights to its cargo operations. When speaking to The Korean Herald, a spokesperson for Asiana Airlines said:
“To convert passenger planes to cargo planes has significantly strengthened our capacity, as demand for air cargo is expected to rise in the age of COVID-19, we plan to focus on cargo flights in many aspects to turn around our performance.”
Last year, Asiana Airlines became the first airline to convert an Airbus A350-900 passenger plane into a main deck freighter. The work involved removing 283 economy class seats and installing a steel panel on the floor. The A350-900 can now carry an additional five tons of cargo, bringing up its total cargo load to 23 tons.
The A350 was put on the ICN-SGN route
The newly modified jet made its first flight as a dedicated freighter on September 23, 2020. It carried 20 tons of IT equipment and electrical parts from Incheon International Airport (ICN) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Following the flight to Los Angeles, the aircraft was put on the high-demand route from ICN to Tan Son Nhat International Airport (SGN) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
To help with the conversion, Asiana Airlines worked closely with Airbus and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the EASA issued exemption guidelines to airlines so that they could carry urgent medical and PPE supplies. Airbus then worked with the safety agency to develop an SB (Service Bulletin) so that airlines could use the cabins of passenger planes to carry cargo.
When speaking about the decision to convert the A350s, Kim Kwang-Seok, Senior Executive Vice President of Cargo Business at Asiana, said the following,
“We took the decision for aircraft modification after a close review of its capability to secure safety and increase profitability. Cargo sales have become a big part of the airline’s business during the COVID-19 situation, and we will carry out various efforts for the segment.”
When speaking about Asiana’s decision to covert an A350 Anand Stanley, Airbus’ Head of Region, Asia-Pacific, said:
“We congratulate Asiana Airlines on becoming the first operator to convert an A350 using Airbus’ solution. During these challenging times, we are heartened to see our airline partners move nimbly to address their needs. Airbus remains committed to support our airline partners by providing solutions to their new needs.”
South Korea is a major exporter
South Korea is the world’s fifth-largest exporter, so it is no surprise to see Korean carriers turning to cargo when passenger numbers are way down. While air freight will certainly play a vital role in transporting COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, we’re unlikely to see many more airlines converting passenger planes to freighters. Carriers seem to be now pinning their hopes on a summer recovery and will be looking to entice back passengers who have been unable to travel due to coronavirus restrictions.
What do you think will we continue to see more planes being converted to freighters, or is the demand now not as great? Please tell us what you think in the comments.