Taking cue from airlines across the globe, India’s flag carrier Air India is evaluating the option of transitioning its parked passenger flights into cargo-only flights. India has extended its ban on all domestic and international passenger flights till April 14 in its fight against the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many other airlines around the world like Lufthansa, Austrian, China Eastern and LATAM are already using their idled aircraft as freighters utilizing both belly space and passenger cabins, though such a move in India needs the approval of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Nirbhik Narang, executive director, cargo, Air India, said, "We are considering and the expert team is examining the feasibility of using our fleet of passenger flights as cargo-only freighters which is very much in demand right now. This may also require removing the seating arrangements or applying for approval from the DGCA."
"Meanwhile Air India is using the belly space of its fleet of passenger aircraft as charters for supplying essential goods and medical items to each corner of the country. For example, on Thursday we flew the Boeing 787 Dreamliner from Mumbai to Delhi and on Friday we had it flying from Delhi to Aizawl, capital of Mizoram, from there to Kolkata, to Hyderabad and then back to Delhi, all carrying essential and medical items to fight against Covid-19," he said.
Airlines flying charters using belly space
Many Indian airlines are also using or planning to use chartered flights with belly space to move essential and medical goods inside and outside the country. SpiceJet is flying all its five freighters and also some of its passenger flights, while GoAir has expressed its willingness to participate in emergency services by writing a letter to the ministry of civil aviation.
Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways are among foreign airlines who also want to fly their grounded airlines with cargo in belly space to Indian destinations, while also considering using passenger cabins with subject to approval.
With more and more global airlines deploying their parked wide-body passenger aircraft for cargo-only flights to provide capacity for vital supplies as a result of Covid-19 pandemic, plane maker Boeing has issued a multi-operator message (MOM) for passenger airplane carriage of cargo.
If airlines seek to carry cargo on passenger seats, Boeing recommends ensuring compliance with any regulatory restrictions that include cargo type, fire suppression and smoke detection.
Civil aviation ministry’s air cargo group
On March 27, ministry of civil aviation has set up an air cargo management group with resident commissioners of states and union territories to ensure the smooth flow of air freight and essential commodities across the country during Covid-19 pandemic.