Korean Air is using passenger aircraft as freighters on suspended routes, as it seeks “new opportunities in the market amid unpredictable changes such as suspensions of flights and the US’ restrictions on European countries”.

On 13 March, the flag carrier transported emergency supplies and agricultural products from South Korea to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, plying a route that has been suspended from 3 March. This was flown on a passenger Airbus A330-300 capable of carrying 20 tonnes of cargo.

Korean Air will also deploy more cargo flights to Qingdao, China from 21 March, using passenger aircraft that it says have been idle from 25 February. It plans to expand destinations and cargo types.

Last week, the carrier confirmed that 100 of 145 passenger aircraft in its fleet have been grounded, and this includes ten A380s that will remain out of service until 25 April.

It says in the latest statement: “Flight suspensions and reductions due to Covid-19 have led airlines to park passenger aircraft at airports. The entry restrictions of many countries on passengers departing from [South] Korea has led to the suspension of 89 of Korean Air’s 124 routes as of March 13.

“The number of operating international flights has been reduced to approximately 86% following a decrease in demand.”

Korean states that Hanjin Group chairman, Walter Cho, proposed the idea of using passenger aircraft as freighters to “overcome the current crisis, as this would cut down expenses and support import and export companies.”

Cho said: “As the Covid-19 situation becomes increasingly dire, it is important for us to take a new perspective when looking at the market.

“If we use the cargo compartment of our parked passenger aircraft, not only can we respond to the changing demand of cargo transport by diversifying our cargo routes, but we can also reduce aircraft parking fees.”

He added: “The business strategies of passenger and cargo should be shifted as the trans-Atlantic [air routes are] now blocked. We must flexibly respond to market demand.”

In a similar move, Cathay Pacific is considering operating cargo-only services on passenger jets to Japan, following significant cuts to the passenger network.

In a client notice sent last week, Cathay’s cargo arm says it expects capacity cuts to impact passenger belly cargo operations but is looking at ways to “continue serving our cargo customers to and from Japan”.

“This includes the retention of certain passenger services for cargo carriage only,” the notice read.