Ethiopian Airlines Adapting Passenger Aircraft For Cargo Use

As Ethiopian Airlines is recalibrating its operations in the wake of COVID-19, it looks to the evolving demand for global air cargo transport. In a webinar held on Sunday, the airline said it is reconfiguring 13 more of its commercial aircraft fleet to carry cargo rather than passengers.

Ethiopian coronavirus
Ethiopian Airlines is converting passenger aircraft to increase cargo capacity. Photo: Getty Images

In lieu of passengers

Ethiopian Airlines, the fastest-growing airline in Africa, has, in lieu of passengers, significantly increased its presence in the cargo market. The East African carrier is now flying shipments of supplies to 74 destinations worldwide. No wonder it is reconfiguring some passenger aircraft cabins to increase capacity, rather than keep stacking boxes onto seats.

“We are now focusing on cargo. The cargo business is relatively doing well because urgently required medical supplies are needed all over the world from east to west, west to east, north, south and so on. We are also trying to convert some of our passenger aircraft to cargo,” Tewolde GebreMariam, CEO of Ethiopian was quoted as saying by Aerotime Hub.

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Ethiopian is reconfiguring four of its A350. Photo: Airbus

Both short- and long-haul aircraft

According to Logistics Update Africa, the information was shared by carrier representatives at a webinar called “Flying cargo and touching lives – air cargo’s critical role in Africa amid the Covid-19 pandemic.” The aircraft in question are both short- and long-haul. Five Q400s will be reconfigured to serve neighboring regions, delivering medical supplies to destinations like Juba, Mogadishu, and Djibouti.

Out of its widebody fleet, Ethiopian is converting four A350s, and four Boeing 787 Dreamliners. These are in addition to four B777-300ERs, three B737-800s, and two B767-300s that have already been reconfigured to boost the airline’s cargo capacity.

Cargo fleet and unique flights

Ethiopian Cargo has previously been operating 12 freighter aircraft of ten Boeing 777Fs and two 737-800Fs. On the 24th of April, one of them, a 777F, operated a unique one-time flight carrying 52 tons of perishable supplies and flowers along the elaborate route Addis Ababa-Brussels-Oslo-Incheon-Hong Kong-Addis Ababa.

On the 17th of April, the airline began a thrice-weekly cargo service to Bangkok, transporting essential supplies and masks. Just two days prior, one of the massive 777Fs carried supplies to the small Bosnia-Hercegovina town of Banja Luka. And on the 5th of May, it flew 52 tons of fruit from Burkina Faso to Frankfurt, using one of the recently refitted 777-300ERs.

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Ethiopian is converting some of its Dreamliners for cargo. Photo: Boeing

Service application launch

Ethiopian is also developing the digitization service process of its newfound cargo capacity. Just Monday, the airline announced the launch of a mobile app for cargo customers. The app includes a number of self-service features, such as flight-schedule checks, cargo tracking, and charter requests, all at the “swipe of a finger.”

With African commercial aviation expected to lose $6 billion in 2020, small advantages in attracting cargo customers can end up making quite a difference for which airlines come out of the crisis in slightly better shape. Although that is a very relative term these days.