If an aircraft type is no longer worth operating in passenger traffic, why is it in cargo traffic?

By | December 10, 2023

Several factors contribute to the transition of aircraft from passenger service to cargo operations when they are no longer considered viable for carrying passengers. Here are some reasons why older aircraft types may find a second life in cargo operations:

  1. Economic Viability: Aircraft that are no longer cost-effective for passenger service due to factors like higher fuel consumption or maintenance costs may still be economically viable for cargo operations. Cargo airlines may be able to operate these aircraft at a lower cost, especially if the demand for air cargo is high.
  2. Cargo Conversion: Some older passenger aircraft undergo modifications to convert them into dedicated cargo planes. The removal of passenger seats and installation of cargo doors allows these aircraft to efficiently transport goods. Cargo conversion can extend the operational life of an aircraft beyond its original passenger service.
  3. Reduced Regulatory Requirements: Cargo operations may have different regulatory requirements compared to passenger services. Older aircraft that no longer meet the latest standards for passenger transport may still comply with cargo regulations, making them suitable for cargo operations.
  4. Payload Capacity: While an older aircraft may not be suitable for carrying a large number of passengers, it may still have a significant payload capacity. Cargo airlines value aircraft that can transport a high volume of goods, and older models may fit this requirement.
  5. Freighter Demand: The growth of e-commerce and global trade has led to increased demand for air cargo services. Cargo airlines may find it economically feasible to operate older aircraft in freighter configurations to meet this demand.
  6. Extended Lifecycle: Cargo operations generally involve fewer pressurization cycles and a less demanding operational environment compared to passenger flights. This can contribute to an extended lifecycle for an aircraft when used in cargo service.
  7. Secondary Markets: Older aircraft that are retired from major airlines may find a second life in regions with growing air cargo demand or where there is a need for cost-effective freighter capacity. These aircraft can be sold or leased to cargo operators in secondary markets.
  8. Adaptability: Cargo operations often have more flexibility in terms of aircraft adaptability. Older aircraft that may not meet the specific requirements of modern passenger service can still find use in cargo transportation with minimal modifications.
  9. Cost of Acquisition: Cargo airlines may acquire older aircraft at a lower cost compared to purchasing newer models. This cost advantage can make older aircraft financially attractive for cargo operators.
  10. Spare Parts Availability: The existence of a large pool of spare parts for older aircraft types can make their maintenance more cost-effective, especially when compared to newer, less common models.

In summary, the transition of older aircraft from passenger service to cargo operations is driven by economic considerations, adaptability, and the specific requirements of the air cargo industry. As long as these aircraft can meet safety and regulatory standards for cargo transport, they can continue to contribute to the air freight industry.