Royal Brunei Converts An A320neo As Austrian Ditches Its Makeshift Freighters

Royal Brunei Airlines is preparing to capitalize on the continuing high demand for cargo operations. Brunei’s national flag carrier has converted one of its Airbus A320neos from a passenger aircraft into a cargo-in-cabin aircraft. But is the airline a little late to the party?

Royal Brunei Airlines has converted one of its Airbus A320neos from passenger to freighter. Photo: Airbus

Earlier this week, we reported that Austrian Airlines converted its two makeshift 777 freighters back into their original passenger configurations. Last year, the airline removed the seats from the two aircraft to meet soaring cargo demands as passenger flights ground to a halt. Now, with passenger demand returning, the 777s will carry passengers once more.

In complete opposition to this, Royal Brunei Airlines has converted one of its seven A320neos into a cargo aircraft. The aircraft was previously operating passenger flights, but the airline removed the seats to create a cargo-in-cabin freighter. According to local media outlet, the aircraft flew its first cargo flight this week on June 21st.

Late to the game

Over the past year, news of airlines converting passenger aircraft to carry cargo has become fairly common. This is because lots of cargo was previously carried in the hold of passenger aircraft. With fewer passenger flights and the need to transport PPE globally, demand for freight space has soared.

However, most markets are now starting to see passenger numbers increase. Austrian Airlines’ decision to convert its freighters back to passenger aircraft signifies the growing demand for seats.

Austrian Airlines converted some passenger aircraft to cargo-only due to an increase in demand. However, it is now converting them back. Photo: Austrian Airlines

But this doesn’t mean cargo demand is dropping. Masks and medical equipment are still in demand, and vaccine transportation remains crucial. Captain Khalidkhan Hj Asmakhan, Royal Brunei Airlines’ CEO, confirmed that the airline has seen strong cargo demand for the past year. And it shows no signs of slowing down.

Unlike other airlines that have converted freighters to deliver cargo worldwide, Royal Brunei will operate local and regional flights to distribute aid across Indonesia and the surrounding islands. A decision that is likely to be crucial for success.

In December, the European Commission announced an aid package of €20 million to help South-East Asian countries cope with the pandemic. However, aid in these regions is considerably far behind other parts of the world. So, although Austrian is preparing for passengers, Brunei and its neighbors are still in need of cargo.

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Converting passenger to freighters

Converting passenger aircraft to carry cargo in the cabin isn’t as easy as ripping out the seats. The entire aircraft needs to be reinforced to carry heavier loads, windows are covered, new doors are added, and electrics need modifying. All of this takes time and costs money. Not to mention the money lost while the aircraft remains on the ground.

Converting passenger aircraft means covering the windows, modifying the doors and electrics, and reinforcing the floor. Photo: Melvinnnnnnnnnnn via Flickr

Considering all this, Royal Brunei Airlines must expect high cargo demand for at least several months. The airline confirmed its new A320neo freighter will fly five times a week, and it will need to keep this up to earn its transformation. As the airline looks to diversify into more cargo to help recover from the effects of the pandemic, we could see the airline could convert more of its fleet.

What do you think? Is the airline to join in the trend? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.