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Emirates SkyCargo marks one year of passenger freighter operations

[ March 18, 2021   //   ]

On Monday, March 16, 2020, Emirates flight EK 2503 took off from Dubai to Kuwait. Although operated on a Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft, EK 2503 carried no passengers but about 34 tonnes of bellyhold cargo that was urgently required in Kuwait.
It was the first time in the history of its operations that Emirates had operated a cargo only flight on a passenger aircraft. Coming just four days after COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), EK 2503 would be the first of more than 27,800 cargo flights to be operated by Emirates SkyCargo in the year that followed as the cargo carrier worked ceaselessly to keep communities across the world connected to the essential medical and food supplies they needed during 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, Cargo.
Prior to the pandemic, nearly two thirds of Emirates SkyCargo’s total cargo was transported in the bellyhold of Emirates 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,” he said.
To bolster the cargo capacity offered by the carrier’s 11 Boeing 777 freighters and make sure that Emirates SkyCargo could meet the urgent demand for goods such as PPE, ventilators and other pharmaceutical goods and food supplies from across the world, the cargo group proactively made a radical and innovative plan to utilize our widebody passenger aircraft to operate cargo only flights.
“We trialed this passenger freighter concept with a flight to Kuwait 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.
“Our team worked tirelessly to flesh out 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.”
That strategy has been the backbone of Emirates SkyCargo’s 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,” Sultan said. “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.”
To meet the global demand for transport of PPE and essential supplies, Emirates SkyCargo followed up on 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 and introducing ‘mini freighters’ which were 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.
Emirates SkyCargo has operated more than 27,800 cargo only flights on passenger aircraft during the last year. These flights have 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 1000 full flights on the Boeing 777 freighter aircraft.

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