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Asiana reconfigures A350 passenger cabin with Airbus cargo pallet system

n another airline first, Brazil’s Azul adapts Embraer regional jet for cargo

An Asiana team loads boxes in the passenger cabin, aided by a new pallet system for floor-loading. (Photo: Airbus)

South Korea’s Asiana Airlines is the first airline to modify an A350 twin-aisle plane with a mini-pallet system developed by Airbus (CXE: AIR) to increase the efficiency of cabin loading amid a supply shortage for cargo airlift.

Engineers removed 283 seats and installed the cargo pallet system on the floor to firmly secure cargo loads, increasing cargo capacity by 5 metric tons to 23 tons, Airbus said in a recent news release. The process also includes the removal of in-flight entertainment systems. 

The reconfigured A350 was deployed in late September to fly IT and electronic equipment, as well as online orders for items such as clothing, from Seoul to Los Angeles. Asiana is now flying the aircraft on other high-volume routes such as Seoul to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. 

Finnair has also changed an A350 for cabin-cargo without theAirbus’ pallet system, Airbus spokeswoman Heidi Carpenter said.

More than 150 aircraft worldwide have had seats removed this year to increase space for light shipments such as personal protective equipment that don’t require reinforced floors, according to data from the International Air Transport Association.

“We took the decision for aircraft modification after a close review of its capability to secure safety and increase profitability. Cargo sales have become a big part of the airline’s business during the COVID-19 situation, and we will carry out various efforts for the segment,” said Kim Kwang-seok, Asiana’s senior executive vice president of cargo business, in a statement.

Passenger airlines pivoted quickly when travel demand was destroyed at the outset of the coronavirus crisis by putting some grounded planes to use as dedicated cargo aircraft. Although passenger aircraft can’t carry as much cargo as pure freighters, which typically can carry containers and large pallets, several widebody aircraft like the A350 have substantial space in the lower hold. Many airlines have also received exemptions from regulators to temporarily load boxes in seats and overhead bins. Using cabins for cargo requires extra labor because loose pieces have to be individually loaded through narrow passenger doors and secured.

Airbus in April began offering a modification for airlines to install cargo pallets in A330 and A350 aircraft.

The use of palletized freight in the cabin is easier and quicker than loading and unloading individual boxes and reduces wear and tear on the seats themselves. Other benefits, according to Airbus, include greater fire protection and the 9g load restraint capability to prevent cargo from shifting in flight.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has certified the Airbus pallet system for passenger aircraft. 

Azul’s Embraer cargo jets

Aviation innovations continue to take place around the world.

Brazilian airline Azul (NYSE:AZUL) recently became the first to reconfigure an Embraer E195 regional jet for dedicated cargo service by removing 118 seats. The aircraft entered commercial service on Sept. 26 and the carrier said at the time it expects to modify three more by the end of 2020 to serve e-commerce shippers amid record demand for cargo transport. Two of the four planes have already been dedicated to an e-commerce provider for at least six months.

The four Embraer jets will join the company’s two dedicated Boeing 737-400 freighters dedicated to Azul Cargo Express. The airline also operated five ATR 72-600 Quick-Change aircraft that can be switched from passenger to cargo mode.

“We are excited to continue diversifying our business model with the adaptation of these four Embraer aircraft. The size, range and performance of the E195 gives it the perfect combination of payload capacity, volume capacity and low trip-cost economics, allowing fast and efficient logistics access all around Brazil,” CEO John Rodgerson said.

The aircraft used in the conversion has flown with Azul since 2010 and is part of the fleet of more than 50 first-generation E195s that would be taken out of service in the coming months, as the company received the largest E195-E2, according to aviation news site Airway1. But the outbreak of COVID-19 changed plans and now the airline has postponed the arrival of new Embraer aircraft, it said.

Click here for more FreightWaves and American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.


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Eric Kulisch

Eric is the Supply Chain and Air Cargo Editor at FreightWaves. An award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering the logistics sector, Eric spent nearly two years as the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Automotive News, where he focused on regulatory and policy issues surrounding autonomous vehicles, mobility, fuel economy and safety. He has won two regional Gold Medals and a Silver Medal from the American Society of Business Publication Editors for government and trade coverage, and news analysis. He was voted best for feature writing and commentary in the Trade/Newsletter category by the D.C. Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In December 2022, he was voted runner up for Air Cargo Journalist by the Seahorse Freight Association. As associate editor at American Shipper Magazine for more than a decade, he wrote about trade, freight transportation and supply chains. Eric is based in Portland, Oregon. He can be reached for comments and tips at [email protected]