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Boxes tied down in the passenger cabin with netting after seats removed. from Scoot jet.

Scoot, the budget carrier of Singapore Airlines Group, has removed the seats from an Airbus A320 aircraft to help meet demand for more cargo capacity and optimize deliveries to smaller airports during the coronavirus pandemic.

The modification is noteworthy because the A320 is a single-aisle aircraft and most passenger planes being operated in cargo-only mode tend to be widebody types that can carry bigger loads on long international routes. It also demonstrates that large airlines aren’t the only ones reconfiguring cabin interiors amid a global shortage of air transport for goods caused by the massive reduction in passenger travel and flights.

In March, Scoot was one of the first airlines in Southeast Asia to start operating belly-hold cargo charters using its twin-aisle Boeing 787-9 aircraft and in May began operating cargo-only flights with A320, often with boxes strapped into the seats. Now it is one of the first in the region to offer cargo charters with modified aircraft. 

Removing seats doubled the A320’s carrying capacity to nearly 20 tons and will allow it to better serve smaller airports, the low-cost airline said this week. The modified passenger freighter made its debut Saturday from Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province in southeast China, to Singapore with 13 tons of general merchandise and has four more flights scheduled this month.

The reconfiguration, which included installation of placards to mark floor-loading zones and extra fire extinguishers, took four days and required approval from Singapore’s aviation authority. Two specially trained crew members will escort the shipments to ensure proper loading and manage any inflight emergencies, such as smoke, fumes or fire.

Another A320 jet is also being reconfigured this week to allow for more cabin cargo, Scoot said. 

Scoot has operated more than 200 cargo charters to and from 10 cities: Fuzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Kunming, Nanjing, and Wuhan in China; Perth and Sydney, Australia; and Taipei, Taiwan. 

Passenger airlines began shifting aircraft to move essential supplies when the COVID-19 virus outbreak reached critical mass in March. Cargo business offers them a way to keep aircraft and pilots in service that otherwise would be idle and to generate much-needed revenue. Some governments have been faster than others in granting necessary certifications to place shipments in the cabin or make alterations.

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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