American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL) will continue to operate cargo-only flights to Beijing Capital International Airport with passenger aircraft through the end of March, after which all activity will switch to Beijing’s new airport.
The Texas-based carrier announced Friday it is moving flights to the new Beijing Daxing International Airport, the biggest airport in the world, when passenger service resumes from its hub at Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) airport on March 27. Flights will operate daily on a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.
“It is still too early to determine how the return of passenger service to Beijing may impact our cargo-only flying in March. That will depend on the demand at that time, but either way all of our flying would move to PKX [Beijing Daxing],” spokeswoman Laura Bassel said.
American Airlines operates two daily auxiliary freighters to Beijing — one each from Los Angeles and DFW — via Seoul, South Korea. Both flights are on a Boeing 787-9.
American has flown 174 dedicated cargo flights to Beijing through Oct. 7 and 2,992 cargo-only flights overall since March, Bassel said.
The new Beijing airport offers the latest features, four runways and a terminal that ensures customers won’t have to walk more than eight minutes to a gate, making it easier to make connections with codeshare partner China Southern for travel within China and elsewhere in the region.
Passenger freighters were envisioned as a temporary way to utilize assets during the coronavirus crisis.
Passenger airlines adapted to flight closures caused by COVID-19 and travel restrictions by shifting a portion of their fleets to dedicated cargo operations The services are in high demand from companies with goods to move amid a global shortage of air transport. The auxiliary freighters mostly fly with cargo in the bellyhold, but some airlines strap boxes into the seats and use overhead bins when feasible to carry bigger loads. American has not joined some airlines in removing seats to create more space for cargo.
Airline executives expect to phase out mini-freighters and share space on passenger flights as passenger networks rebuild over time, although cargo-only flights are expected to continue through the end of the year and possibly longer, depending on the strength of the passenger recovery. Aviation professionals say cargo divisions will likely have greater input on how and when to restart flights going forward because of cargo’s strong revenue performance during the airline industry’s ongoing depression.
United Airlines recently announced that improvement in travel demand is allowing it to transition some cargo-only flights between Shanghai and San Francisco back to regular passenger service.
U.S.airlines suspended flights to China early this year when the COVID-19 outbreak began to spread worldwide.
Delta Air Lines and United have recently taken advantage of Chinese loosening of COVID-related flight restrictions to restart some flights to China, but American is taking longer to do so. The carrier plans to resume service to Shanghai from DFW next month.