Cathay operates passenger aircraft as freighters to replace lost bellyhold capacity

Cathay Pacific is now using A330-300s operated by Cathay Dragon solely to fly cargo to Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen. (Photo: Cathay Pacific)

In recent weeks, Cathay Pacific and regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon have made significant reductions to their respective intra-Asia passenger flight schedules, leading to a precipitous drop in bellyhold capacity. Air cargo demand remains robust to the extent that Cathay has begun to repurpose some of its many idled aircraft by flying them as freighters.

Cathay confirmed to Cargo Facts that it is currently using passenger-configured Cathay Dragon A330-300s solely to carry cargo between Hong Kong (HKG) and select destinations in mainland China, most notably Beijing (PEK) and Shanghai (PVG).

While passenger bookings can only be made on one daily flight each to and from PEK and PVG, operated by A330-300s, Cathay’s cargo schedules and flight trackers show the carrier flying an additional A330-300 to PEK on a daily basis, and to PVG three times a week, at least for this week. Another thrice-weekly A330-300 to Xiamen (XMN) appears only in the cargo schedules, in addition to the three A330-300s per week to XMN being offered to passengers.

While a passenger A330-300 typically offers approximately seventeen to nineteen tonnes of payload in its belly, that figure takes into account a full passenger load and could therefore be higher on these flights, even if volume — rather than weight — is likely to be the limiting factor. With nine pallets and two LD3 containers, as well as around twenty cubic meters of bulk cargo, assuming a density of 160kg per cubic meter, the aircraft would be capable of carrying twenty tonnes. By comparison, a freighter-converted A330-300F has a payload of around sixty tonnes.

Cathay already offers main-deck capacity to PEK and PVG in the form of wholly owned cargo airline Air Hong Kong (AHK), which flies A300-600Fs to PEK and A330-300Fs to PVG. Cathay Pacific itself also operates 747Fs to PVG.

Cathay also said it would consider using passenger services to only carry cargo to and from Japan, after announcing over the weekend it would be cancelling all passenger flights to the country from this week through March 28.

Cathay serves Tokyo (NRT) six times a week with a 747F, while AHK also flies A300-600Fs to Nagoya (NGO), Osaka (KIX) and NRT.

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