The number of aircraft that carriers have operated for the sole purpose of transporting cargo during the COVID-19 crisis has more than doubled in the past two weeks to more than 350, based on analysis by Cargo Facts.
The nature of these makeshift freighter operations varies widely. Some, like Latvia-based SmartLynx, which flew an A320 between Riga (RIX) and Guangzhou (CAN) via Almaty (ALA), appear to be one-off charters carrying medical supplies from China. Others, such as Romania-based TAROM with a 737-800, LOT Polish with 787s, or Hungary-based Wizz Air with its A321neos, are also flying charters to China for supplies, but as a series of flights.
The most intensive use of passenger aircraft as freighters sees carriers establishing a regular or semi-regular network of cargo-only flights to transport not just masks and personal protective equipment, but the freight that would normally be travelling around the world in the bellies of passenger aircraft. Examples of such carriers include American Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and United.
In just the past week, Air Canada and Lufthansa announced the removal of seats inside passenger cabins to maximize cargo volume after regulatory authorities provided clarity regarding the carriage of freight in passenger cabins.
The following chart lists the operators that have flown aircraft as freighters, and the aircraft involved. We note that this list is not exhaustive but intended to give a rough estimate as to the unprecedented scale of this kind of operation.
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