Air Canada Credit
In response to growing demand for PPE and rapid test kits, Air Canada (AC) has accelerated its deployment of passenger aircraft for cargo services.
For its planes which have had their seats removed to make room for cargo in the cabin (internally referred to as “Charlies”), this wave is a last hurrah before they are returned to passenger configuration.
The start of 2022 has been surprisingly strong, almost at the level of last January/February, said Jason Berry, vice president of freight, and transpacific traffic may have been higher, due to the increase in volumes of PPE and rapid test kits.
On the Hong Kong and Shanghai routes, the lion’s share of AC’s traffic was carried by 777 “Charlies”, operating about 14 flights a week to Shanghai and 10 on the Hong Kong sector.
AC has been using Incheon as a crew base for some time to avoid Hong Kong’s prohibitive quarantine regulations for flight crews who are in the special administrative region.
“It worked well,” Mr. Berry said. “It’s not cheap.”
AC was one of the first carriers to field passenger aircraft for cargo flights and the first to remove seats for cargo capacity in cabins. It has performed more than 14,000 cargo flights, up to 40 a day at peak times, but now the “Charlies” are heading for the exit. They are scheduled for heavy checks and during these the seats will be reinstalled.
“I believe the era of cabin freighters is over. They provided excellent service at a poignant time,” Berry said. “This program has been critical in maintaining our customers’ capacity during the pandemic. , we see the need and demand for this configuration ending in the third quarter as passenger capacity begins to return closer to pre-pandemic levels.”
From eleven “Charlies” – seven 777s and four A330s – this “fleet” has already grown to seven this month, the last to be released in May.
While the 777s mainly flew transpacific routes and Brazil, the A330s covered Latin America and Europe and some of the Latin destinations were taken over by AC’s first 767 freighter, which now flies to Quito, Lima, Mexico , Guadalajara and San Juan. The airline’s second 767F is scheduled to arrive in March and will primarily cover transatlantic routes.
Berry hopes the delivery schedule will hold, given supply chain issues that have plagued aircraft manufacturers and maintenance and conversion companies. However, a delay is unlikely to put the “Charlies” back in action.