While international travel comes to a standstill, interestingly, Malaysia Airlines has started flying its massive Airbus A380 aircraft between Kuala Lumpur to London. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the A380 won’t be carrying any passengers but instead, it is being used for cargo-only service.
As reported by Air Cargo News, MASkargo had operated an A380 aircraft from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Heathrow with 26 tonnes of cargo. These are mostly e-commerce goods, originating from Guangzhou, China. On the return leg, the aircraft was fully laden with cargo primarily pharmaceutical products and mail. According to MASkargo chief executive Ibrahim Mohamed Salleh, this is an innovative and ‘beyond-the-box approach” as no other Airbus A380 equipped airline that they know of has utilised the double-decker aircraft for cargo-only basis.
He added that MASkargo’s freighters’ flying hours have been utilised to the maximum allowable due to humanitarian COVID-19 relief efforts and other business demands. When its freighters can no longer cope, they started innovating by kicking off its passenger-to-cargo (P2C) project where an A330 passenger plane is used to carry cargo.
With increasing cargo volume and with lesser cargo capacity into Heathrow, they have decided to utilise the biggest aircraft available in Malaysia Airlines’ fleet, the A380. The current scheduled A350 aircraft isn’t big enough to cater for the volume of cargo that’s required.
According to MASKargo, they are operating 94 passenger-to-cargo (P2C) flights since 22 March with a high aircraft utilisation rate and with more than 250 flights being planned up to 31st May 2020. These flights are operated to ensure global supply chains are maintained and they also transport essential goods including medical equipment.
The A380 is currently the world’s largest passenger aircraft and it is operated by 15 airlines worldwide. Malaysia Airlines currently has six A380s in its fleet. During the initial development of the A380, there was supposed to be a freighter version called the A380F. Unfortunately, the plan was scrapped and only the passenger version was produced.
Unlike a dedicated freighter aircraft, a passenger plane has lower cargo capacity and usually, it isn’t practical to fly passenger planes solely for cargo flights. As a comparison, MASkargo’s A330-200F freighter has a cargo capacity of 67 tonnes.
However, with the increasing airfreight rates coupled with cheaper jet fuel prices, using passenger planes for cargo-only service could be profitable for airlines in the current situation. To optimise capacity, some airlines would even fill up the cabin space with cargo.
To learn more about the current air cargo situation, you can check out the video below by Wendover Productions: