How IAG’s Cargo Division Worked Through Passenger Flight Groundings

While many passenger flights were grounded in the spring, the need to transport cargo around the globe didn’t stop. With 95% of the UK’s cargo arriving in the belly of passenger flights, IAG’s cargo division was presented with a problem.

IAG Cargo, British Airways, Boeing 777
IAG Cargo has been keeping global cargo moving throughout the crisis. Photo: British Airways

IAG Cargo is an interesting cargo airline. While British Airways used to wet lease three Boeing 747-8 freighters, its successor has no aircraft. Instead, the airline uses the space in the belly of other IAG member aircraft to transport goods worldwide. This could be anything from 550+ tonnes of fresh fish to living animals.

Commandeering passenger planes

To cope with the continuing demand to ship cargo worldwide, IAG Cargo first had to work out how to transport these goods. The solution was relatively easy. Many aircraft from across the International Airlines Group were sitting on the ground at airports gathering dust.

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IAG Cargo commandeered some of these aircraft, allowing them to make money from flying freight despite not having passengers above the wing. This allowed the airline to launch a network of 340 weekly cargo flights, mostly out of British Airways’ Heathrow hub.

IAG Cargo, British Airways, Boeing 777
The airline was quickly operating 340 weekly cargo flights. Photo: British Airways

Commenting in the IAG Cargo Magazine, the airline’s head of marketing and external communications, Matthew Gardiner, said,

“We were also very quick to offer our customers and governments the opportunity to charter IAG’s aircraft and even established a new charter team as part of our response to COVID-19.

”Bespoke capacity solutions such as charters have proved popular and during the second quarter of the year in total we operated 615 charters flying everything from PPE to pineapples to vanilla beans.”

PPE flights

Many flights operated by IAG Cargo carried vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies to Europe. British Airways was flying supplies for the NHS from Shanghai and Beijing. Meanwhile, sister airline Aer Lingus was collecting supplies for Irish hospitals. In total, the airline carried some 11,000 tonnes of PPE, with one shipment alone consisting of 55 tonnes of hand sanitizer.

IAG Cargo, British Airways, Boeing 777
At one point, 55 tonnes of hand sanitizer were flown on a single flight. Photo: British Airways

While most of the cargo was being carried in the hold of passenger aircraft, two Boeing 777s got special treatment. These aircraft had most of their seats ripped out, creating even more space for lighter boxes in the aircraft. 100 meters cubed, to be exact.

British Airways isn’t alone with its makeshift Boeing 777 freighters. Lufthansa was one of the first airlines to take such an approach, affectionately terming these aircraft as ‘preighters.’ Arguably, one of the most impressive conversations seen to date is Hi Fly’s Airbus A380, which has become the world’s first, and likely last, cargo A380. Airbus had been planning to build dedicated cargo A380s, but these plans never made it to the assembly line.

What do you make of IAG Cargo’s acts to keep the world moving? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!