Emirates is temporarily removing more than 3,000 economy-class seats from 10 of its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to make room for cargo while it waits for passenger demand to return.

The Dubai-based carrier says the modifications will enable it to carry an additional 17t of freight per aircraft, on top of up to 50t of bellyhold capacity.

The move is in response to “strong air cargo market demand” for commodities such as personal protective equipment, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, says Emirates. The aircraft will be deployed “on routes to key production and consumer markets where Emirates SkyCargo sees maximum demand for movement of urgently required goods”.

Each 777 will have 305 seats removed from the economy-class cabin. The seats will be “hygienically stored away” until the aircraft are required for passenger services again, at which point they will be “fitted back into the aircraft and tested for passenger safety and comfort”.

The work is being performed by Emirates Engineering. Seven aircraft have so far been modified and the remaining three will be completed by mid-July.

“Converting our passenger aircraft to these mini freighters is certainly a sign of the times,” states Ahmed Safa, divisional senior vice-president at Emirates Engineering. “Our teams have shown resilience, an innovative spirit and adapted quickly to the needs of the changing business environment.”

Cirium fleets data shows that Emirates operates a fleet of 102 777-300ERs.