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From impossibility to reality: Emirates SkyCargo marks one year of passenger freighter operations

Passenger Freighter Flight transporting Pharma from Hyderabad

Emirates SkyCargo is marking one year of operating cargo only flights on passenger aircraft.

For the first time in its history on 16 March 2020, Emirates operated a Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft from Dubai carrying no passengers but instead about 34 tonnes of bellyhold cargo that was urgently required in Kuwait.

It was the first of more than 27,800 cargo flights to be operated by Emirates SkyCargo in the year that followed.

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Emirates’ divisional senior vice president, cargo Nabil Sultan said: “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.

“Prior to the pandemic, nearly two thirds of our total cargo was transported in the bellyhold of our passenger flights. With increasing flight suspensions and restrictions on passenger travel imposed due to Covid-19 in early March 2020, we could foresee a situation where there would no longer be adequate cargo capacity available in the market to transport essential supplies.

“In order to bolster the cargo capacity offered by our 11 Boeing 777 freighters and make sure that we could meet the urgent demand for goods such as PPE, ventilators and other pharmaceutical goods and food supplies from across the world, we proactively made a radical and innovative plan to utilise our widebody passenger aircraft to operate cargo only flights.

“We trialled this passenger freighter concept with a flight to Kuwait on 16 March last year. 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.”

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Sultan said Emirates worked to develop a new business model from the ground up, “seeking approvals from authorities, drawing up a new route network, drafting new operational and safety guidelines and speaking to our customers around the world – to make sure that as a socially responsible carrier, we were able to maintain essential supplies of cargo into markets and at the same time sustain exports around the world in challenging economic conditions”.

Sultan added: “Our passenger freighter strategy has been the backbone of our operations during the pandemic transporting cargo to more than 125 destinations across six continents. It has showcased our resilience as a global facilitator of trade and supply chains. With resumption and growth in passenger operations, we have started gradually moving towards our traditional model but our passenger freighters continue to remain a strong component of the Covid-19 pandemic response.”

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