South Korean airlines convert passenger jets into cargo carriers

  • 2020-09-09

South Korea’s flag carrier Korean Air Lines Co. has converted its passenger plane Boeing 777-300ER into a cargo carrier to further boost cargo operations, with its affiliated low-cost airline Jin Air set to take the same approach in October.

Korean Air’s newly transformed cargo carrier took off from Incheon International Airport on Sept. 8 heading to Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, according to the company on Sept. 9. The city is home to many logistics centers managed by leading distribution and clothing companies in the US.

Going forward, Korean Air will link up with cargo route networks in Southeast Asia to transport orders for automobile parts, electronics parts, and clothing among other products. Meanwhile, Jin Air also plans to transform its passenger aircraft B777-200ER into a freight aircraft next month to step up cargo operations.

Last week, Korean Air received approval from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport to overhaul two of its passenger jets, mostly by stripping seats and clearing up floor space, to load cargo. The approval came after the planes were reviewed by Boeing and aviation safety inspectors since transforming a plane is not a simple matter and requires a thorough technical review.

The conversion process included removing both passenger seats and the complex in-flight electrical wiring. Also, standardized safety latches were installed to prevent cargo from sliding around.

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Originally, the Boeing 777-300ER passenger plane could load up to 22 tons of cargo in its lower compartment deck. Korean Air removed 269 seats from the aircraft’s passenger cabin, allowing room for an additional 10.8 tons of cargo.

The airline industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, causing most global airlines’ businesses to plummet. Meanwhile, Korean Air has dealt with the Covid-19 crisis by strengthening its global cargo networks, utilizing freighters, and riding on its years of experience in the cargo business.

Earlier in June, Korean Air installed cargo seat bags on top of passenger seats to transport goods, which helped increase cargo supply while reducing airport parking fees for grounded passenger planes. Between April and September, the company’s passenger jets flew 420 times on a monthly average carrying an average 12,000 tons of cargo.

The airline’s tactics were successful as the company recorded an operating profit of 148.5 billion won ($124.8 million) during the second quarter of this year while most major airlines posted record-low earnings. Also, cargo revenue for Korean Air climbed 95% on year to 1.23 trillion won.

Meanwhile, Korea’s No. 2 airline Asiana Airlines is awaiting approval from the transportation ministry to convert one of its passenger aircraft into a cargo carrier, according to local media reports.

By Kyung-min Kang

kkm1026@hankyung.com

<Edited by Danbee Lee>