Passenger airline travel has plummeted since the COVID-19 pandemic, causing some of the world’s major airlines to shift into the freight business to combat shipping congestion and generate much needed revenue.
With their main cabins empty but their cargo holds jammed with shipments, the movement from passenger to freight shipping is helping to ease freight bottlenecks as well as provided much needed revenue for passenger airlines with grounded planes.
American Airlines launched its first cargo-only flight since 1984 last week, with two round-trip flights between Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Frankfurt. Its Boeing 777-300 passenger plane carried more than 100,000 pounds of freight including needed medical supplies, e-commerce packages, electronics, and telecommunications equipment, reported The Wall Street Journal.
Other global carriers are also running passenger aircraft on freight-only flights including Delta Air Lines, Korean Air Lines, Qantas Airways, and Deutsche Lufthansa.
“The transport demand has clearly increased, and we want to make our contribution wherever possible to maintain the delivery chains,” said Deutsche Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr at a recent news conference.
According to Brian Clancy, managing director of the consulting firm Logistics Capital & Strategy LLC, the coronavirus pandemic has suspended most passenger flights in Asia, and thereby also cut 60% to 67% of airfreight capacity “[clogging] up the feeder system for intercontinental flights.” Because of the bottleneck, freight forwarders are now being paid rates of $9 to $11 per kilo, dramatically up from $3 a kilogram before the COVID-19 crisis.
As such passenger carriers with idle plans can now “maximize the payload per departure and take advantage of the very high market rate,” especially now that fuel prices have plummeted, Clancy stated to The Wall Street Journal. “That makes this type of scenario economically attractive.”