Last summer, British Airways converted two Boeing 777 aircraft into ‘preighters’, a term for makeshift freighters coined by Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr. The aircraft were initially deployed exclusively to Shanghai to carry light items such as masks and gowns needed to fight against COVID-19. However, the aircraft’s demand fell significantly in January.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to many peculiarities taking off in the aviation industry. For example, flights to nowhere have now become a regular occurrence for some carriers, given current border controls. Makeshift freighters also became more mainstream as airlines looked to keep vital light cargo moving while belly space in passenger flights became sparse.
How useful has British Airways found its makeshift 777 freighters?
British Airways was quick to begin carrying light freight in the cabins of its aircraft. The airline was following others like Lufthansa in stacking boxes on passenger seats. However, when Lufthansa took the step of removing seats to further up capacity, the British flag carrier wasn’t far behind!
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British Airways finished removing the seats from G-YMMK on May 22nd. G-YMMG followed this on May 27th. Since having their seats removed, British Airways’ preighters have become the go-to aircraft for carrying light items such as PPE from China to the UK.
The aircraft can’t take heavy cargo pallets in the cabin. However, it is perfect for high volume low weight boxes such as those containing surgical masks or disposable aprons. In their first full month of use, 56 flights were operated by the two aircraft, equating to 28 round trips.
However, this didn’t follow through to July, when only 35 flights were operated. From August to December, the aircraft were running between 10 and 15 round trips each. Mostly to Shanghai.
However, according to data from Radarbox.com, everything changed in January. While MG operated just eight flights in January, MK clocked 11. In mid-January, both aircraft were switched from flying to Shanghai to operating New York flights.
Airlines are still launching preighters
Many may have assumed that the preighter wave was finished, given that international flights have been gradually resuming. After all, Hi Fly said goodbye to its mega Airbus A380 preighter after failing to generate enough revenue to justify it.
Just last week, Kenya Airways sought to prove otherwise. The airline has ripped the seats out of one of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. For the time being, only one conversion has been approved.
Simple Flying understands that a second aircraft could be in the pipelines. However, Kenya Airways’ decision appears to be more of a one-off. Such conversions have become rarer as the pandemic has developed.
What do you make of the preighters’ use? Have they fallen out of favor, or are they just facing a rough month? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!