Airlines across the European Union are no longer allowed to pack empty passenger planes with cargo, in a further sign that the aviation industry is recovering from the pandemic.
The temporary exemption to allow so-called ‘preighting’ – using passenger planes to transport freight – was introduced during the pandemic as passenger flows dried up while governments scrambled to transport masks and other medical protective gear across the globe.
However, the European air safety watchdog has now decided the practice end, banning airlines from any further ‘preighter’ services.
“Air cargo services had been vital for the economy and for coping with logistical challenges linked to the Covid-19 pandemic due to the reduction of cargo transported in the holds of passenger commercial planes,” the European Air Safety Agency (EASA) explained in a memo.
“Airlines rush to build back passenger capacity lost during the pandemic.”EASA statement
“During the peak of the pandemic, when almost all long haul operation had been suspended, there was a need to support the logistic chain with a solution to increase the cargo capacity using passenger aircraft to transport cargo on the main deck.”
“That is no longer the case, however, as airlines rush to build back passenger capacity lost during the pandemic. Airlines are pressing aircraft back into service and there is now sufficient cargo capacity in the belly hold of normal passenger services,” EASA said.
“Following a review of the operational context for transport of cargo in the passenger cabin, the agency has concluded that the logistical challenges that arose in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 crisis no longer exist to the same extent,” the statement read.
Going forward, cargo services can solely be offered by making space in the belly hold of regular passenger planes or dedicated freight aircraft.
During the pandemic, airlines made decent money on preighting services, according to a report by aviation publication Paddle Your Own Kanoo.
Dubai-based Emirates Airlines even went as far to convert a number of its gigantic Airbus A380 planes into so-called ‘mini freighters’, ripping out sections of passenger seats so larger cargo could be loaded.