Lufthansa Cargo is ramping up its fleet of passenger jetliners as freight-only aircraft to increase capacity on the Germany-China sector. This adds to the existing capacity of its B777F and MD-11F freighter fleet. The upping of freight-only jetliners is a reaction to the ongoing high demand in Europe for the supply of face masks and hygiene products coming from China. The demand, which also appears to be financially rewarding for cargo airlines, clearly exceeds the transport capacity of full freighters.
Currently, Lufthansa’s cargo subsidiary utilizes 8 widebody A330-300s out of Frankfurt on sectors to mainland China, with 4 of them stripped of their seats to accommodate more shipments per flight. Next week, two more A330s will be modified, leading to a total of 6 pax aircraft without seats based at Rhine-Main, each capable of uplifting voluminous freight loads of up to 30 tons per flight.
Munich Airport supplements the Frankfurt contingent with 4 A350s, offering the market two daily China rotations. COO, Harald Gloy of Lufthansa Cargo told CargoForwarder Global, that the market demand for Lufthansa passenger aircraft utilized as freighters is remarkable. “A number of forwarding agents signed charter agreements for these aircraft over a period of several weeks.”
He does not specify any commercial or even financial terms such deals are based on but emphasizes that Lufthansa Cargo generates additional “and much needed” (Gloy) revenue through its passenger- to-freighter program.
Limited life span
However, in the same breath he also points out that, in comparison, full freighters such as Lufthansa Cargo’s B777Fs, capable of uplifting 103 tons each time, are much more economical. “That’s why we only use the freight-only passenger aircraft to cover transport peaks.”
How long the existence of these hybrids will last, is not determined. It depends on the further development of the pandemic and the standstill of passenger traffic, resulting in huge losses of lower deck transport capacity.
The pilots, all of whom come from Lufthansa Passenger Airline, do not require special training since no cargo-aircraft-only goods are loaded. Instead, the need for lightweight protective equipment fits in well with the transport possibilities in the cabin. These are stowed in cardboard boxes each weighing between 9 and 11 kg once filled with hygienic items.
Basically speaking, “a passenger jetliner cannot simply be loaded with cargo in the cabin, as the approval criteria for passenger cabins and cargo compartments are completely different,” Lufthansa Technik experts point out. For example, cargo planes accommodate a different floor load. In other words, the structural load capacity of a passenger aircraft is lower than that of a freighter. Furthermore, cargo aircraft must be equipped with special fire protection systems. These and similar criteria must be considered and require approval by the regulator prior to any operations.
A lot of manual labor
Since the passenger A330s and A350s are not equipped with cargo hatches, all shipments have to be carried by hand through the passenger doors into the cabin of the aircraft, where they are built into different transport units. The latter are tied down using nets which are attached to the seat rails fixed to the cabin floors, thus securing the goods during flight. “Although the packages are quite light, they can reach high centrifugal forces during acceleration or turbulence. As another security measure, we always have a cabin crew on board consisting of 3 or 4 members who are additionally briefed regarding the cargo,” explains Mr. Gloy.
He also makes it clear why these freighters are only a temporary solution: mass transports of medical supplies are expected to gradually fade out as the corona pandemic subsides, bringing passenger traffic and growing lower deck cargo capacity into the picture again. Thirdly, the turnaround times of hybrid freighters by far exceed those of passenger aircraft due to labor-intensive loading / unloading processes, amounting to 3 hours in average. This adds to the charges payable to airports.
As far as the home bases of Lufthansa Cargo are concerned, i.e. Frankfurt and Munich, the night flight ban for aircraft transporting medical supplies has been loosened until further notice. "The fact that the authorities are temporarily allowing more flexible regulations is an important help in optimizing the currently scarce air cargo capacities to Germany and Europe,” Mr. Gloy concludes.
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