Emirates Marks One Year Of Preighter Boeing 777 Operations

It’s been over a year since the World Health Organisation declared that COVID-19 had developed into a pandemic. Yesterday, Emirates SkyCargo marked one year since it began operating flights with makeshift freighters, taken from unused capacity from the airline’s mainline fleet.

Emirates SkyCargo, Boeing 777, Preighters
Yesterday marked a year since Emirates began operating cargo flights with its passenger Boeing 777s. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

Many expected 2020 to be a year focused around sustainability as far as the aviation industry was concerned. However, nobody was ready when the COVID-19 virus knocked the sector down. Despite this, the industry as a whole was quick to act on the new challenges raised by the pandemic, such as a vast cargo capacity deficit.

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One year since the first preighter flight

Yesterday marked a whole year since Emirates SkyCargo operated its first freight flight using one of its passenger jets. The movement was kicked off by EK2503 to Kuwait. Despite being designed for passengers, the aircraft’s seats were empty except for members of the crew. However, the story was different below the deck.

A6-EPA operated EK2503, a six-year-old Boeing 777-300ER delivered to the Dubai-based giant in August 2015, according to data from Planespotters.net. in the aircraft’s hold were 34 tonnes of cargo urgently required in nearby Kuwait. With the United Arab Emirates’ borders closing to passengers just days later, cargo became a huge focus for the airline.

Emirates, Airbus A380, Germany
The airline removed economy class seats from 16 of its passenger Boeing 777-300ERs. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

27,800 preighter flights

As things would turn out, EK2503 would be the first of many such flights. In the past year, Emirates has operated more than 27,800 cargo-only flights using its passenger aircraft. A couple of Airbus A380s were even drafted into the cause at one point.

Among the cargo carried on these flights was 100,000 tonnes of essential medical and food supplies. This alone would fill a Boeing 777 freighter 1,000 times. However, more recently, such flights have also begun to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine in partnership with UNICEF.

Commenting on the preighter operations, Nabil Sultan, Emirates Divisional Senior Vice President, Cargo said,

“With increasing flight suspensions and restrictions on passenger travel imposed due to COVID-19 in early March 2020, we could foresee a situation where there would no longer be adequate cargo capacity… In order to bolster the cargo capacity offered by our 11 Boeing 777 freighters… we proactively made a radical and innovative plan to utilise our widebody passenger aircraft to operate cargo only flights.”

Emirates SkyCargo, Boeing 777, Preighters
The Airbus A380 was even drafted into the preighter effort at one point. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

A look at the Emirates freighter fleet

Emirates Sky Cargo’s fleet currently consists of 11 dedicated freighter aircraft. These are all Boeing 777s built as freighters by Boeing. The airline removed the economy class seats from a further 16 passenger Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to increase its freight capacity. The airline has also been placing freight on some seats and in the overhead lockers of such aircraft.

What do you make of Emirates’ year of preighter operations? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!