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From passengers to cargo


Following KJM Today's earlier highlighting of using airliners that normally carry passengers to carry cargo at London Heathrow (usually by strapping boxes to the seats or removing the seats entirely), Matthew McClearn, of The Globe and Mail, takes a look at similar conversions in Canada.

Image - Manufacturer via the Globe and Mail.



More than a quarter of a century after retiring its last dedicated freighter, Air Canada is back in the business of flying exclusive cargo flights. Last month, the airline removed seats from four Boeing 777 300ERs, more than doubling the space available for goods on the planes. The aircraft are primarily moving masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment necessary to combat COVID-19 from Shanghai to Canada. The airline also plans to convert four Airbus A330s to serve routes to Europe and South America.


“We weren’t looking to be in the freighter business until this moment,” said Tim Strauss, the airline’s vice-president of cargo. “We’re doing this so we can get more PPE equipment back into Canada faster than could have been done otherwise.”


The Boeing 787 (Air Canada)


American Airlines and Finland’s Finnair have also rapidly converted aircraft into freighters, and new announcements arrive weekly. Now everyone from ground crews to airport officials to regulators are scrambling to adapt to these hybrid planes. While not unprecedented, such wholesale re-purposing of aircraft occurs only during humanitarian crises, said Jonathan McDonald, an analyst with aviation consultancy IBA. Rare examples included large-scale airlifts after a tropical cyclone destroyed Darwin, Australia, in 1974, and during famines in Ethiopia. “In history, yes, there have been one-off events. You had the Berlin Airlift, I suppose, but that’s going back 70-plus years,” he said.