Delta Air Lines will join the list of airlines operating passenger aircraft as freighters. The carrier’s entire trans-Atlantic belly network has been nearly eliminated as a result of the U.S. travel ban on foreign nationals from the Schengen Area, the U.K. and Ireland.
Delta Cargo has begun offering charter flights in response to customer demand, particularly for time- and temperature-sensitive shipments. Delta told Cargo Facts these charters will be available for any mainline aircraft to and from thirteen participating airports: Atlanta (ATL), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW), Detroit (DTW), Honolulu (HNL), Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK), Newark (EWR), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA) and Washington (IAD). More than seventy international airports are also included.
As of March 16, Delta’s trans-Atlantic schedule only sees the airline operating a handful of flights to Amsterdam (AMS), London (LHR) and Paris (CDG) in Europe. In a memo to all Delta employees last week, CEO Ed Bastian said the overall capacity reduction of 40% in the next few months would be the largest in the company’s history. Up to 300 aircraft could be parked.
The airline has already started ferrying widebodies, including A330s, A350s, 767s and 777s, to storage locations such as Birmingham (BHM) and Marana (MZJ).
American Airlines Cargo, which from March 16 to May 6 will only offer belly capacity from DFW and MIA to LHR on the trans-Atlantic lane, told Cargo Facts it is actively working with customers on charter options. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the airline also flying empty passenger aircraft solely to carry cargo.
The trans-Atlantic market is particularly dependent on belly capacity. According to Cargo Facts Consulting, in 2019 only 55% of freight from the U.S. to Western Europe and 40% of freight from Western Europe to the U.S. Freight was carried on freighters. By way of comparison, around 71% of airfreight between the U.S. and Northeast Asia was flown by freighter aircraft.
With the general lack of airfreight capacity due to cancelled passenger flights, several airlines have already begun to operate passenger aircraft as freighters. Cathay Pacific is flying A330-300s operated by regional subsidiary Cathay Dragon, while Singapore Airlines is using 787s operated by low-cost subsidiary Scoot. Korean Air also flew emergency supplies and agricultural products on an A330-300 to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) last week, and plans to expand the operation to Qingdao (TAO) and other cities. El Al Israel Airlines is reportedly considering offering its 777 and 787 aircraft for cargo use only.
With low fuel prices and large numbers of parked aircraft, we expect to see more airlines operating makeshift “freighters” to make up for lost belly capacity as a way to partially recuperate the losses sustained due to greatly reduced passenger demand and flight cancellations.