LOT Polish Airlines In Talks With Boeing Over Temporary 787 Freighter Conversion

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.

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Sibling airline LOT Polish already has a fleet of 787-8s. Photo: Mykhailo Slupitskyi via Wikimedia Commons.

“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.

Cargo demand has experienced a surge due to urgent medical supplies needed all over the world to address the pandemic. However, this is only part of the story. As passenger flights have been drastically reduced, so has overall cargo capacity. This is because commercial passenger flights would normally transport cargo as well. With so many passenger operations suspended, airlines are looking for solutions to meet the demand – in the most efficient manner possible.
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LOT has 15 787s in its fleet. Photo: LOT Polish Airlines

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.

LOT Polish Airlines In Talks With Boeing Over Temporary 787 Freighter Conversion
Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways is using their A320s to transport cargo. Photo: Jazeera Airways

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.

Other airlines are taking a little more action by removing the seats from their passenger jets. A good example is Air Canada and their removal of seats from some 777-300s and Dash 8 turboprops.

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.

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Could seats be removed for cargo to go on LOT Polish’s Dreamliners? Photo: LOT Polish Airlines.

Conclusion

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.

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