The rapid introduction of passenger aircraft in dedicated freighter roles has been a key development during the coronavirus pandemic – one cargo experts see as continuing.
Speaking during this week’s FlightGlobal webinar examining how the cargo sector adapted during the pandemic, European Aviation Group chairman Paul Stoddart said he expects so-called “preighter” aircraft (passenger jets used as freighters) will continue to be an important tool for the industry.
“There is a market because we have quite a quantity of these aircraft and we’ve had enquiries from customers in other countries that wish to use them,” he says. “I see a halfway house where we don’t put a full freight door in but we do have the PMCs [lightweight cargo pallets] inside the aircraft.”
The webinar, which was produced in association with SmartKargo, looked at how the freight industry is evolving amid the sharp decline in the volume of passenger flights which has significantly reduced belly-cargo capacity.
“Where I see the industry going over the next two years is, there will be a need for ‘cargo quick response’. And you can deliver globally very, very quickly,” says Stoddart.
European Aviation Group has a fleet of 19 ex-passenger Airbus A340-600s, some of which have been deployed as preighters during the pandemic, transporting vital medical equipment for the UK National Health Service between Asia and Europe in their holds and passenger cabins.
“So there’s one aspect where you need a quick response. And then longer term it is very much all the various overnight freight – Amazon, Alibaba, etc – where people need to move a large amount from A to B,” says Stoddart.
“It takes time [to modify aircraft to preighters], but it’s not anywhere near the time you’re talking for… passenger-to-freight conversions because you can be talking a couple of years,” he adds. “There’s a very strong demand, certainly in the short term and I hope it will extend to the medium term.”