Finnish flag carrier, Finnair, is following the lead of other passenger airlines and converting its aircraft into more freight-friendly jets. The airline disclosed this week that it would convert two of its Airbus A350s to meet cargo demand between Europe and Asia.
“Although the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant impact on our passenger traffic, Finnair still maintains cargo connections between Europe and Asia. Cargo traffic is crucial at the moment, and I am glad that we have been able to implement a new business model and quickly create a new freight network.” – Mikko Tainio, Managing Director, Finnair Cargo
The need to convert
While many major airlines around the world have cargo divisions, only some airlines have dedicated cargo aircraft as part of those departments. Airlines like Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Cathay Pacific all have freighters of their own.
Finnair is an airline without any freighters. Indeed, its cargo operations would typically work in tandem with its passenger services. The cargo would be flying in the belly of the aircraft. This means that, even if there is low passenger demand on a particular day or week, the flight could still be more profitable than it looks, merely through the transportation of freight.
However, due to high demand, Finnair will be using the passenger cabins of two Airbus A350s for cargo. We asked the airline for details on this conversion, including the number of seats removed, and this is what they had to say:
“We are not removing seats from these aircraft, but seats have been covered and packages can be stored in the overhead lockers and under the seats. Lighter packages can also be loaded on the seats, if needed…The majority of the cargo is still in the belly.” – Finnair spokesperson
According to FlightGlobal, this will allow it to boost the capacity for transporting emergency medical supplies. This includes items such as coronavirus samples, which are being moved between Finland, Estonia, and points in Asia.
This week the airline plans to operate over 10 return cargo flights using the A350, flying to destinations like Osaka (Kansai International) and Tokyo Narita in Japan, Seoul Incheon in South Korea, and Guangzhou and Shanghai in China.
What different conversions look like
We have yet to see how these converted A350s will look. However, based on the information provided by the airline, it doesn’t sound like a dramatic conversion as packages would just be placed on and around seats.
Other airlines have taken different approaches. Aer Lingus, for example, has also kept its A330’s seats. However, special bags are being used to more effectively move items in and out.
Air Canada, on the other hand, has gone to the extreme. The airline has wholly removed the seats from some of its long-range widebody Boeing 777-300ER jets. In addition to this, cargo netting has been put in place to secure goods in-flight.
In the end, it’s not the dramatic aircraft conversion that we initially imagined, but this will still go a long way in getting valuable cargo and medical supplies out of Asia and into Europe.
“We’re really happy to be able to carry on this path and do some work for humanitarian purposes… It’s not only work on the commercial side. When I talk to my family at home, I can say I’ve done something for the humanitarian purpose. That feels pretty good,” remarks Fredrik Wildtgrube, Finnair Cargo’s Head of Sales.
What do you think of Finnair’s cargo conversion? Should they just go all-in like Air Canada? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.