American Airlines will nearly double its cargo flights to 140 a week as it waits for passengers to return to travel again due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the demand for worldwide cargo capacity increasing and airlines sidelining planes for years due to the sudden drop in travel, Fort Worth-based American said it will ramp up operations, including routes between DFW International Airport and Hong Kong and Beijing.
Nearly 100 flights a week will be cargo-only operations, something American Airlines hadn’t done for 36 years before the COVID-19 pandemic. Another 44 will be widebody flights carrying passengers to destinations such as London, Madrid and Tokyo, but will have larger cargo loads due to a smaller number of passengers.
Since March 20, American has flown 208 cargo-only flights.
All airlines have turned to higher cargo loads to fill the gap left by the crater in the global travel industry. American has parked more than half of its fleet and only last week said it would be marking more Airbus jets mostly used in international travel.
With so few commercial passengers jets in the air, the International Air Transport Association has actually warned of a shortage of air cargo capacity.
“The cancellation of more than 4.5 million passenger flights – the primary means of transporting post - has meant that capacity is scarce, costs more and takes longer,” said Bishar A. Hussein, speaking for IATA and the Universal Postal Union. “Action needs to be swiftly taken to address the shortfall in air cargo capacity and to keep the mail moving.”
Even with an increase in cargo flights, airlines such as American have a long way to go to make up for lost passengers. In the first quarter, American reported $218 million in revenue from cargo, compared to $9.66 billion from passengers.
Nationwide, air passenger traffic is down about 91% compared to last year, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
American’s cargo flights are used to transport medical equipment, communications and technology tools, pharmaceuticals and food, the company said. The company has been moving about 6 million pounds of goods a week.
“Why we fly hasn’t changed, but out of necessity how we care for people on life’s journey has had to change,” said a statement from Rick Elieson, American’s president of cargo and vice president of international operations.
Even though many of the flights are only carrying cargo, it’s only being done in the belly of the plane and not in the cabin, said American Airlines spokeswoman Kristin Rademacher.
“We have FAA approval to carry cargo and while we have the permission to fly cargo in-cabin, it’s not necessarily feasible or the best solution for every flight due to economics of extra crew needed and the time needed to load the cargo in-cabin,” Rademacher said.
She said American is evaluating routes where putting cargo in the cabin might make sense, but “for the most part, we will stick to cargo in the belly only.”
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