FAA Approves Passenger Cabin Freight Operations

Yesterday, the FAA granted an exemption to U.S. carriers, allowing them to carry cargo onboard passenger seats. This move will significantly increase the amount of cargo that airlines can transport now that they can use both the cargo cabin and the passenger cabins onboard. But the ruling does come with a few restrictions.

FAA Approves Passenger Cabin Freight Operations
The FAA has ruled that airlines can carry cargo on seats on aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

What are the details?

Yesterday evening, the FAA passed an exemption for U.S. carriers to transport cargo inside passenger cabins. Until now, airlines have only been able to transport cargo in the cargo deck of the aircraft.

“This exemption allows A4A members and other part 121 operators that submit a Letter of Intent (in the form and manner described below) to carry cargo on seats installed on the main deck of transport category airplanes used in part 121 operations when no passengers are being transported, through December 31, 2020.” – FAA ruling

Previous rulings had allowed carriers to transport cargo within the passenger cabin (such as in the overhead bin), but this new exemption allows the cargo to be loaded on seats.

The new rules stipulate that carriers can:

  • Transport cargo on passenger seats inside of a cabin (thus, they do not have to remove passenger seats or features). This will allow the airlines to operate aircraft as a passenger aircraft, or cargo, at the drop of a hat.
  • Cargo on seats can’t exceed 50 lbs (22.6 kg) per seat. If the average person weighs around 132 lbs (60 kg), then this additional cargo is approximately one-third of what is typically transported.
  • Only when they have no paying passengers on board, and all passenger services (such as entertainment, toilets, and even heating) needs to be disabled
  • And the exemption expires at the end of the year.

Carriers will need to apply for this exemption directly with the FAA, and the rule does not automatically apply to all airlines. The original pension to the FAA asked for a two-year exemption, but it seems that the FAA has only granted U.S. airlines around seven months.

Before this exemption, cargo could only be transported in the belly of aircraft within the United States . Photo: American Airlines

Why did the FAA grant this exemption?

The FAA has claimed that this exemption will help carriers ferry around special medical cargo to help combat the current pandemic.

“The stability of the U.S. transportation infrastructure is particularly critical at this time because of the increased and immediate demand for medical supplies and other essential cargo prompted by the COVID-19 public health emergency. As passenger-carrying part 121 flights may commonly carry “belly cargo” in the lower deck, the decline of passenger-carrying flights because of COVID-19 diminishes available air freight capacity.”

Icelandair passenger to cargo
A separate ruling is expected with regards to removing passenger seats and directly transporting cargo. Photo: Icelandair

Judging by the rules that the FAA has outlined, such as having to apply for the exemption and the weight restrictions, this move is to facilitate medical transport. Medical equipment, on the whole, is very light (think gloves and PPE). This restriction will prevent airlines from transporting other heavier cargo (such as parcels).

Regardless, airlines in the United States are going to see a big benefit from this ruling. Without passengers to transport, much of the passenger cabin was going to waste with empty seats. Now that they can fill these seats with cargo, they can now pull more revenue from these cargo-only operations.

In its closing remarks, the FAA has dictated that it may allow carriers to continue transporting cargo in the passenger compartment after December 31, 2020, if the situation warrants it. Also, the FAA has yet to rule on another petition asking to remove the seats and store cargo on the floor.

What do you think of this news? Let us know in the comments.