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Emirates SkyCargo marks first year of passenger freighter service

  • One of the first air cargo carriers globally to introduce cargo-only flights on passenger aircraft to transport PPE and other essential supplies
  • Has operated more than 27,800 cargo-only flights on passenger aircraft in one year
  • Around 100,000 tonnes of essential supplies including pharma and food transported on these flights—equivalent to 1,000 full flights on the Boeing 777 freighter

Emirates SkyCargo, a cargo airline based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, commemorated this month its first year of passenger freighter operations, which are cargo-only flights on passenger aircraft.

On March 16, 2020, Emirates flight EK 2503—a Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft—took off from Dubai to Kuwait with no passengers but with about 34 tonnes of bellyhold cargo that was urgently required in Kuwait, the airline said in a statement.

This flight marked the first time in the history of its operations that Emirates had operated a cargo-only flight on a passenger aircraft, and it came just four days after COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Following EK 2503, more than 27,800 cargo flights have been operated by Emirates SkyCargo in the year that followed in order to bring essential medical and food supplies all over the world amidst the pandemic.

“It has been exactly one year since what was considered impossible in the air cargo industry became not just a reality but a strong operational pillar for Emirates SkyCargo,” said Nabil Sultan, Emirates divisional senior vice president of cargo.

Prior to the pandemic, nearly two-thirds of the carrier’s total cargo was transported in the bellyhold of its passenger flights. With increasing flight suspensions and restrictions on passenger travel imposed due to COVID-19 in early March 2020, Emirates foresaw a shortage of cargo capacity available in the market to transport essential supplies.

As a result, it decided to utilize its widebody passenger aircraft to operate cargo-only flights, with the first such flight to Kuwait taking place on March 16 last year, Sultan said.

“Over the next few weeks, as regular passenger operations were completely suspended, we started increasing our passenger freighter flights to a point where we had close to 90 passenger aircraft being used for cargo operations.”

To meet the global demand for transport of PPE and essential supplies, Emirates SkyCargo followed up the introduction of passenger freighter services with further innovations including the loading of cargo on passenger seats and in overhead bins inside the passenger cabin.

It also introduced “mini freighters”—Boeing 777-300ER aircraft with seats removed from Economy Class to make more room for transporting cargo. Emirates SkyCargo currently has 16 Boeing 777-300ER mini-freighters for cargo operations.

The more than 27,800 cargo-only flights on passenger aircraft that were operated during the last year helped transport more than 100,000 tonnes of essential supplies including PPE, COVID-19 testing kits, ventilators, pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and food. This is the equivalent of cargo carried over 1,000 full flights on the Boeing 777 freighter aircraft.

The air cargo carrier also operated a record number of charter flights using passenger aircraft exclusively to transport cargo.

Emirates SkyCargo has been among those leading the global air cargo industry’s response for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. It has set up a dedicated Good Distribution Practices-certified airside hub in Dubai for COVID-19 vaccines and has also partnered with leading Dubai-based entities and with UNICEF for the rapid transport of COVID-19 vaccines to developing nations through Dubai.

Emirates SkyCargo’s passenger freighters have also played a key role in the transport of COVID-19 vaccines.

Photo courtesy of Emirates SkyCargo

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