United, LATAM and Turkish join Cathay Pacific, Korean, Delta, and IAG in using some of their passenger aircraft on cargo-only services.
With airlines continuing to slash passenger services in response to COVID-19, an increasing number of them are redeploying their passenger (pax) aircraft to maintain a cargo offering, with United, LATAM and Turkish joining the likes of Cathay Pacific, Korean, Delta, IAG in using some of their passenger aircraft on cargo-only services.
United Airlines has announced that it will use some of its Boeing 777 and 787 fleet to “initially operate a schedule of 40 cargo charters each week,” initially targeting international destinations. It added: “With coronavirus (COVID-19) creating an increased need to keep the global supply chain moving, we are utilising our network capabilities and personnel to get vital shipments, such as medical supplies, to areas that need them most.”
United Cargo president Jan Krems, commented: “Connecting products to people around the world has never been more crucial than during the current crisis. Our team is working around the clock to provide innovative solutions for our customers and support the global community.”
The first of these freight-only flights departed late last week from Chicago O’Hare to Frankfurt.
American Airlines is also utilising its currently grounded passenger aircraft to move cargo between the US and Europe. A B777-300 operated two round trips between Dallas Fort Worth and Frankfurt last weekend, carrying medical supplies, mail for active US military, telecommunications equipment and electronics to support people working from home, and e-commerce packages.
Delta Cargo is also launching charter operations from 13 US airports. A spokesperson told Lloyd’s Loading List that two flights will operate this week between Dublin and Atlanta.
Cathay Pacific Cargo said its teams “have worked hard to retain as many cargo-only passenger services to supplement the skeleton passenger schedule and enable us to continue serving our customers”. It released a schedule which includes normal passenger services as well as cargo-only passenger flights between Hong Kong and mainland China, Taipei, Tokyo, Osaka, several destinations in south-east Asia, Sydney, Delhi, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Vancouver, London, Manchester, Paris, Frankfurt and Zurich. “Our freighters continue to operate as per our latest schedule,” it added.
Jason Breakwell, commercial director at road haulier Wallenborn Transports, whose core business is in the European air cargo road feeder services (RFS) segment, told Lloyd’s Loading List: “We’ve started to see charted and scheduled ‘pax freighters’ this week and expect more during the week as pax flights virtually halt across the Atlantic and via the UAE. These have joined the high number of freighter charter flights currently operating.”
He said the main European gateways for the freighter charters were Amsterdam, Basel, Frankfurt, Hahn, Liège, Luxembourg and Milan Malpensa, while airports for the ‘pax freighters’ include Amsterdam, Paris-CDG, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and London Heathrow.
Meanwhile, in its latest COVID-19 operational update, forwarder Agility noted that “global cargo capacity reductions are a reality at this point, no longer just a China and intra-Asia issue”.
It highlighted “capacity shortages and considerable increases to spot price rates” on Europe-US routes, adding that space is available “with constraints”. As for Europe-China routes, there is “significant capacity constraints and surge in rates”.
Meanwhile, Latin America’s biggest cargo airline LATAM Cargo confirmed that “due to the current circumstances”, along with maximizing the use of the company’s freighters, its passenger aircraft “will be used as freighters”. The two first international flights operated using this strategy took place in the Santiago (Chile) – Mexico City (Mexico) route, using Boeing 787-900 aircraft, totaling more than 80 tonnes of cargo – primarily salmon. The same solution took place in Peru’s domestic market, where an Airbus A320 aircraft was used as a freighter between Lima and Iquitos “which depends on air transportation due to its difficult access by land or sea”. By using “seat containers”, the company mainly transported perishable products, medicines and general cargo.
LATAM Cargo has also increased the freighter frequencies of its 11 B767-300 freighter aircraft. Its freighter capacity between Santiago (Chile) and Miami (USA) increased fivefold in order to offer salmon exporters “a robust solution”. And apacity between Europe and South America was increased 20%, adding up to a total of 6 weekly frequencies “that will allow the transportation of automotive spare parts, general cargo and medicines to South America, as well as transportation of perishable products to Europe”.
In addition, frequencies between North America and South America were increased by almost 15%, totaling 26 frequencies each week, the carrier said. Furthermore, the company will begin operating freighters on the Santiago (Chile) – Los Angeles (USA) route, “in order to offer additional capacity for salmon transportation and to ensure coverage in the United States’ West Coast”. The return trip will be Los Angeles (USA) – Mexico City (Mexico) – Lima (Peru) – Santiago (Chile), a route that will support the transport of technology products, spare parts and health-oriented products.
Andrés Bianchi, LATAM Cargo’s CEO, commented: “The difficulties imposed by this contingency, force us to seek alternatives to satisfy our clients’ needs. This new itinerary, designed and implemented at an unprecedented pace, will allow us to take advantage of our freighter fleet in order to partially meet the shortfall in belly capacity. We are working to provide our clients with more and better choices and serve as support for the region’s economy.”