Taiwanese airlines might repurpose passenger jets to carry cargo in their cabins to offset lost revenue amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Airlines are considering applying to the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) for permission to transport cargo in passenger cabins after StarLux Airlines Co (星宇航空) last month became the first among the nation’s airlines to offer cargo-only flights using the normal cargo holds of its three Airbus SE A321neo passenger jets.
“We are considering whether to increase our capacity by putting cargo on passenger seats,” Starlux spokesman Nieh Kuo-wei (聶國維) told the Taipei Times by telephone. “The advantage is that we can improve revenue, although fastening the cargo might scuff our brand-new seats.”
“We are still evaluating whether the plan has merit,” Nieh said.
The airline has been focused on cargo services between Taiwan and Macau and Penang, Malaysia, to mitigate the effects of faltering passenger business due to travel restrictions, he said.
EVA Airways Corp (長榮航空), which has five Boeing 777 cargo aircraft, and China Airlines Ltd (CAL, 中華航空), with 18 Boeing 747 cargo aircraft, have applied to the CAA to provide cargo-only flights using the holds of passenger jets in the near term, they said.
They are assessing whether to boost capacity by using passenger seats, with a decision to be made after the CAA provides official documents.
“It is tempting given that demand for air cargo is still strong worldwide due to the cancelation of many passenger flights,” an airline manager said by telephone on condition of anonymity. “However, there is so much to evaluate, including training of loading personnel, as we have never done cargo-only flights using passenger cabins before.”
The comments came after the CAA, which has rules that passenger jets may only carry goods in their holds, last week announced that it would relax the conditions to allow airlines to load cargo in passenger cabins to increase their freight capacity.
The regulator is expected to release documents and guidelines for the safe transportation of cargo in passenger cabins today, CAA Flight Standards Division director Clark Lin (林俊良) said by telephone.
“In principle, we will approve the practice if airlines fasten goods securely and have good control over weight and balance,” Lin said.
Cargo can only be carried on seats, in overhead storage bins or in under-seat stowage areas, or in aisles if it is in boxes or bags and strapped down with netting to prevent movement, which would create a hazard if the weight shifted, he said.
Airlines would not be required to provide flight attendants for the cargo-only flights, but should have sufficient crew on board to help load and unload, he said.
While some foreign regulators have allowed airlines to remove seats to increase cargo capacity, the CAA would not allow this for the time being, given that the removal of the seats would “substantially change the way a plane’s balance is calculated,” he said.
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