The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has finally given US airlines permission to remove seats and transport cargo on maindeck of passenger aircraft.
The exemption was granted on Friday for the cargo-only flights and expands upon an earlier ruling which allowed carriers to fly with cargo strapped into the seats through the end of this year.
The exemption enabling the removal of the seats lasts for one year and the FAA also extended until 10 July 2021, its prior ruling on flying with cargo strapped into the seats.
- Among the FAA requirements are:
- Deactivating in-flight entertainment and passenger oxygen systems;
- Using straps, nets, pallets or other restraints to secure cargo to the seat tracks;
- Cargo cannot exceed 50 inches (127 cm) in height;
- Cargo must be loaded in a way that allows sufficient access in aisles for firefighting;
- At least four fire extinguishers available on the main deck;
- At least two trained persons on the main deck whose job is to detect and fight a fire, and relay information to the flight crew.
The FAA’s approval comes as the air cargo market has cooled somewhat from earlier months when there was a mad scramble for capacity due to the shutdown of the passenger sector which removed substantial belly-capacity from the market. A significant portion of that demand was being driven by the dire need for personal protection equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies.
The FAA notes that the one-year exemption supports the movement of critical medical, food and other supplies while passenger demand remains low.
“The stability of the US transportation infrastructure is particularly critical at this time because of the increased and immediate demand for medical supplies and other essential cargo prompted by the COVID-19 public health emergency,” the FAA says.
A key downside of using passenger aircraft as mini-freighters or ‘phreigters’ as they have been dubbed, is the significantly higher manpower requirement as compared to pure freighters.
Other carriers that were quick to move to cargo-only flights with the seats removed include Air Canada, Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines and Emirates – all of whom were able to secure regulatory approval in a more timely manner.