IAG is considering recruiting some of its passenger aircraft for air freight operations, to ensure that essential cargo supplies are maintained as the coronavirus crisis persists.

Chief executive Willie Walsh, speaking during a 16 March briefing, said that governments “need to appreciate” that there is a strong cargo demand, and passenger aircraft carry a large proportion of global air freight.

“Our intention is to try and keep as much of our capacity available for critical supplies that need to be shipped around the world,” he says.

“We may operate some of our passenger aircraft just for belly-hold cargo to ensure we keep critical supplies moving.”

IAG is set to ground dozens of aircraft over April and May, equivalent to a 75% cut in capacity, in response to falling demand and restrictions imposed on travel.

Walsh says the company has had “some good response” from airports which are recognising that airlines are having to park large numbers of aircraft.

“A number of airports have provided us with alleviation on parking charges,” he states.

“Charging structures at airports are often designed to be very penalising to aircraft being parked – so we would expect airports to play their part.

“We’ve had good co-operation so far and we’ve already started parking a number of aircraft away from our home base. And we do have significant flexibility to park aircraft on British Airways-controlled property around [London] Heathrow.”