LONDON – As the COVID-19 pandemic requires more of a cargo-based focus, Singapore Airlines (SQ) has taken the decision to convert two of its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to carry cargo in the passenger cabins.

It is understood that the airlines were recently converted and completed its first flights to Tokyo Narita (NRT) from Singapore (SIN) on November 5. 264 passenger seats that were configured on each of these aircraft were subsequently removed, offering an additional 12% in cargo capacity per flight.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Aircraft in Question


9V-SWN (L.N. 703 / MSN 34579) and 9V-SWM (L.N. 701 / MSN 34578) are the two aircraft that were converted into cargo freighters.

SWN was delivered to SQ in March 2008, whilst SWM was delivered in the month previously. As mentioned, each aircraft fit 264 seats onboard, consisting of four seats in First Class, 48 in Business, 28 in Premium Economy and 184 in Economy accordingly.

As for SWM, this aircraft was recently painted in the White Star Alliance colours back in April last year, offering a more interesting look at a cargo aircraft.

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The Cargo Thrust


It seems as if SQ has been doing things like this for a while in terms of conversion. Back in August, its low-cost carrier Scoot (TR) converted Airbus A320 aircraft into freighters as well.

This is evident that the demand for Passenger to Freighter (P2F) conversions is becoming more a positive reality in the wake of this pandemic. β€œIn these unprecedented times, we will continue to remain nimble and respond swiftly to market needs,” SQ told FlightGlobal this week.

The airline currently has 27 Boeing 777-300ERs in the fleet, with 18 still in storage. The airline could bring such aircraft out of storage and then use them subsequently to cope with the demand in cargo. Around 33 aircraft in the total SQ fleet are currently running cargo flights only.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Should Others Follow Suit?


SQ said that it “will monitor the market” and deploy aircraft on other routes, meaning that more P2F conversions could take place over the next few months.

With the entire globe currently being subjected to significant spikes in the virus, the need for medical goods is still strong, meaning those who operate the cargo flights will be able to benefit positively.

It is therefore that others should follow suit when looking at the pandemic as the cargo flights can bring in and even replace the short-term downfall in passenger demand.

In the eyes of SQ, this is something it wants to do, especially after reporting its first-half net loss of US$3.5bn due to the effects of the virus.

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Stored Aircraft will Make a Comeback


The other aircraft in the fleet that are stored will make a comeback eventually, especially with the airline announcing in October it would increase flights by 15%.

Air bubbles between SIN and Hong Kong (HKG) have also been established, meaning that more passengers can fly on SQ’s services to such destinations globally directly or indirectly. Services into the U.S are also beginning, with the airline returning to New York (JFK) on its ultra-long-haul operations too.

Finally, aircraft that looked fit for retirement have been utilised for other ancillary measures. For example, SQ inaugurated its Airbus A380 dining experience at SIN late last month, offering some more revenue opportunities on that front as well.

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Looking Ahead


Whilst SQ has reported significant losses, it has found a strategy of how to recover some of the losses being made in the Group.

Cargo needs to be a continued focus for the carrier, especially as the pandemic does not seem to be going away for a long while yet, with those in France stating it could be until the Summer next year where things begin to recover.

This of course depends on the spikes of cases in destinations around the world. If the spikes continue, then cargo will become a long-term objective as opposed to short-term.

It will be interesting to see how the airline will cope with this and what further cuts it will need to make in order to thrive and succeed in what is currently a volatile time for the industry.


Featured Image: 9V-SWN, Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons