Continuing our coverage on airlines using their passenger aircraft for cargo, Polish carrier LOT is in talks with Boeing to modify its 787 Dreamliner jets. The news, reported by Reuters earlier today, would mitigate the substantial loss in revenue experienced in the past month due to COVID-19.
“We are in talks with the aircraft manufacturer about … adapting the passenger aircraft (Dreamliner) to cargo transport…If we get approval and meet all safety requirements, we will become the first airline in the world that will adapt the Dreamliner for such transport.” -Michal Czernicki, LOT spokesperson
The rise in cargo demand
It is unclear at this point what kind of modifications the Boeing 787s would need to undergo in order to achieve LOT’s vision for cargo transport. The LOT Polish Airline fleet has 15 787 Dreamliners according to Airfleets. Of those 15, eight are the smaller -8 while the remaining seven are the larger -9 variant.
An uneasy adaptation
It’s not all that easy to fully utilize a passenger aircraft for cargo transport – not efficiently at least. Yes – it’s normal practice to load items into the belly of the aircraft. However, that’s just a portion of an aircraft’s capacity. Just above the hold is a full cabin that might potentially remain empty as an aircraft flies across oceans.
We saw this recently with WestJet’s Dreamliners going from Dublin to Toronto to Atlanta with medical supplies. Cargo was loaded into the aircraft’s belly but up above was the passenger cabin full of empty seats.
Some airlines have opted to keep their seats in but still use the cabin anyways. Aer Lingus has done this using special “seat bags”. Meanwhile, Jazeera Airways seems to have just wrapped things up in plastic for the on-seat cargo. From a pure cargo-efficiency perspective, this would be a waste of fuel as these aircraft are flying with the weight of hundreds of seats that serve no specific purpose.
The trouble in both cases is that passenger cabins are accessed by human-sized doors. This means that a fair amount of labor is involved in carrying goods into and out of the cabin. With seats installed, we can imagine this process would be even more cumbersome.
It is extremely interesting that LOT is talking to Boeing about this. Could more serious modifications be in the cards for some of these 787s? Some extensive work could be done in order to convert a passenger aircraft into something like combi aircraft – one of the biggest modifications would be expanding the size of the door. We’ve asked the airline for details but at this time we’re not exactly sure what it has planned…
What do you think LOT intends to do as part of its freighter conversion? Will we see more than just seat removal? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.