Flying dogs? In the aviation business the folks responsible for flying cargo are called Freight Dogs. And these days the dogs are having their day.
“Demand is off the charts,” said Shawn Cole Vice President Cargo for Delta Air Lines.
Sure, there are the pharmaceuticals and medical supplies so much in demand to deal with Coronavirus, but there is also mail to deliver and the unglamorous but exceedingly important transportation of components for manufacturing.
“We’re here to help keep global commerce moving and supply lines open,” Cole said in a video produced by Delta. “Transforming our operation to provide cargo-only charter flights allows us to diversify our business at a time where the global need to move critical supplies is significant.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, DC (or more likely from their homes) officials at the Federal Aviation Administration are trying to determine how to safely reconfigure space designed for cargo of the self-loading kind, AKA passengers.
Because of their inaccessibility during flight, cargo compartments are lined with materials that suppress fire and systems that contain smoke. The liners are the white panels on the sides of the fuselage in the Boeing provided photo below. You can also see smoke detectors embedded in the ceiling.
These kinds of fire protection systems are not in use in the passenger cabin and the FAA is considering whether firefighters might be needed to fly on airliners moving cargo anywhere other than in the belly. How many firefighters and what tools and techniques they should use are two of many questions still being discussed along with what kinds of freight are cabin-suitable.
Batteries, many chemicals and live animals? Nope, nope and nope. But what about hand sanitizers? Normally they’re allowed only in limited quantities. Now, it is open for discussion.
Then there is the question of passenger seats; Should they stay or should they go? Seat tracks are not certified to secure pallets or containers, according to the International Air Transport Association. But the FAA is talking about whether, under special circumstances, that might be allowed. Overhead storage bins and under-seat storage are also being looked at.
Colibri Aero, a Lithuanian company specializing in aircraft components has a European Aviation Safety Agency certified Cargo Seat Bag which can secure loads of 555 pounds or 252 kilos on a three-seat row.
At Lufthansa (and Lordy, Lufthansa knows cargo) four of the company’s A330s have had their premium and economy seats removed to create cargo space. On other planes, the company appear to be securing cargo to seats as it demonstrated in a video released on Twitter last week.
Tetris: plane edition ✈️ Just in time for the weekend, a recap from our all cargo @Airbus #A330 flight from #PVG to @Airport_FRA last week. Our “Kilo India” was honored to bring around 30t of humanitarian goods to where they are needed most. #WeAreInThisTogether @lufthansa_cargo pic.twitter.com/hTyEoGlBjb
— Lufthansa News (@lufthansaNews) April 3, 2020
With the majority of the global airliner fleet parked on any available surface it must be extraordinarily frustrating for airline executives to be unable to fly the things that must be flown or be limited to the belly while the top half of the airplane is empty.
American Airlines, which so far has been moving cargo using the belly only, is working with the FAA, as well as Boeing and Airbus to be among those approved when the full safety risk assessment is completed, according to Ross Feinstein, a spokesman with the carrier.
“Once approved, American Airlines plans to utilize the passenger cabin to move additional medical supplies and personal protective equipment,” Feinstein said.
The FAA is under considerable pressure to come up with a plan quickly. I was told it would be days, not weeks.
The creativity emerging as the industry sorts through the challenges is something to see. The wanna-be freight dogs may be penned by regulations for now, but don’t be surprised if they’re let loose in the yard before too long.
Note to soon-to-be Freight Dogs: learn how to walk the walk by clicking here.
Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Crash Detectives, I am also a journalist, public speaker and broadcaster specializing in aviation and travel.