Air Canada’s focus on cargo results in a noteworthy flight

Avatar for Frederick K. LarkinBy Frederick K. Larkin | April 28, 2020

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 4 seconds.

Canadian aviation history was made when an Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner touched down at Toronto’s Pearson Airport at 12:39 p.m. EDT on April 27, 2020. Operating as AC7214, C-FPQB had launched from Sydney, Australia 16 hours and 20 minutes earlier that day at 10:19 a.m local time. With four crew members aboard and about 44,000 pounds/20,000 kilograms of cargo, the aircraft entered North America overhead Los Angeles at its final cruising altitude of 41,000 feet.

Frederick K. Larkin Photo
The flight from Sydney, Australia to Toronto Pearson took roughly 16 hours and 20 minutes and was carrying about 20,000 kilograms of cargo. Frederick K. Larkin Photo

The distance flown (8,537 nm/9,824 sm/15,810 km) is believed to be the longest leg ever flown by a Canadian registered aircraft. This noteworthy journey only occurred as a result of Air Canada’s recent strategic focus on the cargo market. With passenger traffic pretty much at a standstill, much of the carrier’s fleet has been grounded. The Air Canada Cargo team, however, spotted an opportunity and has been beating the bushes for business.

As a result, the airline has converted some of its wide-body aircraft into package freighters. So far, three Boeing 777-300ERs and one Airbus A330-300 have been modified. A fourth B77W is being prepared and three more A333s are to follow. That will result in a fleet of eight dedicated cargo carriers.

In the case of the 777-300ERs, Air Canada selected four of its seven aircraft that are configured with a high density 450-seat interior. Avianor of Mirabel, Que., designed a layout that involves the removal of 422 passenger seats, leaving only the 28 Signature Class seats in place. The result is a package freighter that can accommodate 89.63 tonnes/197,600 pounds of light cargo. The cabin floor is not reinforced, so any heavy cargo must be stowed in the below-deck compartments. A typical payload in the reconfigured cabin would be boxes of medical equipment.

Importantly, the design modifications and the related operating procedures have been certified and approved by Transport Canada.

Shanghai Pudong International Airport Photo
So far, Air Canada has converted three Boeing 777-300ERs and one Airbus A330-300 for cargo operations. Shanghai Pudong International Airport Photo

On Saturday, April 25, Air Canada operated 15 cargo flights and 17 flights were to have been performed on April 27. The destinations related to these freighter flights have been as far west as Sydney, Australia and Shanghai, China. They’ve been as far east as Tel Aviv, Israel.

Kevin O’Connor, Air Canada’s vice-president, System Operations Control told Skies, “We have pivoted and become a fairly big cargo airline in a matter of weeks.” He credited the entrepreneurial response to Tim Strauss, Air Canada’s vice-president, Cargo and his team. They have been in constant contact with shippers in an effort to create solutions to their logistical problems.

Will Air Canada eventually operate a fleet of dedicated freighter aircraft, as it did decades ago? That is a subject likely to be discussed internally given the market response to the company’s recent activities. Some have suggested that the Boeing 767-300ER fleet operated by Air Canada Rouge might be appropriate conversion candidates. That is pure speculation at this point.

In the meantime, unorthodox operations are being implemented within the most challenging environment that the global airline industry has ever experienced. Air Canada’s dramatic expansion within the air cargo market is an example of innovative thinking during desperate times.

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