Singapore Airlines

Analysis: Singapore Airlines cargo-only flights using passenger aircraft in July

On average, 20 Singapore Airlines passenger aircraft per day continue to depart Changi with only cargo on board

SQ A350 Engine Behind (Emily Rusch)

Since Singapore Airlines adopted a skeleton passenger schedule in April 2020, one of the interesting alternative uses of the fleet has been something that would be almost unthinkably inefficient in ‘normal times’ – flying passenger aircraft with only cargo in the underfloor hold.

This growing practice worldwide has been the industry’s response to increasing payment rates for air cargo due to the significant shortage of normal capacity, with the majority of this essential freight normally travelling on regular passenger flights.

It also has the side effect of keeping some aircraft busy, despite almost no passenger demand.

In our fourth look at this specific operation on the SIA network, having previously studied what was operating in April 2020, May 2020 and June 2020, we’ve noted a plateau for Singapore Airlines with no significant change to the cargo operation in July 2020.

That suggests perhaps demand is now more closely matching supply, or air cargo payment rates are starting to normalise again making further increases inefficient.

Whatever the reason, here’s our look at SIA’s cargo-only routes this month.


SIA remains effectively a cargo airline

Even though we happily reported last week that Singapore Airlines saw a 62% month-on-month passenger increase in June from the lowest ever level recorded in May, there is still a significant disparity between the airline’s passenger and cargo operations while travel demand remains virtually zero.

The airline carried 52 million kg of cargo last month, with an average load factor of 82.5%.

Fun fact: For every passenger carried, Singapore Airlines Group airlines used to carry 31kg of cargo (June 2019). Currently, they are shifting 2,921kg of cargo for every passenger carried (June 2020).

Fleet activity: July 2020

Since Singapore Airlines adopted its skeleton flying schedule in April 2020, the carrier has been progressively increasing cargo-only services using its passenger aircraft.

Here’s how the weekly number of such departures from Changi have evolved in each of the four periods we have examined:

  • April 2020: 80
  • May 2020: 114
  • June 2020: 140
  • July 2020: 137

The average has now plateaued in June / July at around 140 per week, or 20 per day.

On the busiest days 25 passenger aircraft depart with only cargo on board. Here’s how the airline’s 217 total departures from Changi last week looked.

Singapore Airlines SIN Departures
(w/c 13th July 2020)
Day Passenger Aircraft
SQ 787 SCA Delivery (Paul Schmid)
SQ Cargo 747
Pax +
Mon 5 17 5
Tue 6 15 3
Wed 9 25 6
Thu 7 19 5
Fri 8 17 4
Sat 5 24 7
Sun 6 20 4
Total 46 137 34

In total there were 46 Singapore Airlines passenger departures during the week, similar to the level we saw in June 2020.

Cargo-only flights using the passenger fleet ranged between 15 and 25 daily departures from Changi, totalling 137 during the week, an almost exact repeat of the pattern when we checked last month.

Cargo-only operations by the passenger fleet continue to outweigh passenger departures by around 3:1, making up over 60% of the airline’s total flying activity.


Which routes?

Where were these 137 belly hold cargo services operating? We took a look at last week’s schedule and listed the departing flights from Changi in the following table, alongside the airline’s passenger services (which incidentally will also be carrying as much cargo as possible to maximise revenue).


Cargo-only flight
Passenger and cargo flight
Cargo outbound, pax and cargo inbound
Singapore Airlines Passenger Fleet Activity
SIN Departures
(w/c 13th July 2020)
South & South East Asia
Dest Flt Days Acft
BKK SQ976 787
BLR SQ502 359
SQ8004 359
BOM SQ8022 359
CGK SQ952 359 R
SQ960 787
SQ966 359
359 R
CMB SQ468 359 R
DAC SQ446 359 R
DEL SQ402 359 R
SQ8006 787
HAN SQ176 359 R
HYD SQ474 359 R
KUL SQ104 359
MAA SQ8028 787
MNL SQ910 359 R
RGN SQ998 773
SGN SQ178 787
SUB SQ930 773
North Asia
Dest Flt Days Acft
CAN SQ850 787
FUK SQ656 787
HKG SQ856 359 R
SQ890 787
ICN SQ600 787
KIX SQ622 359 R
NRT SQ12 787
SQ638 787
PEK SQ802 359 R
SQ806 77W
PVG SQ826 787
SQ830 787
SQ836 787
TPE SQ876 787
SQ878 787
South West Pacific
Dest Flt Days Acft
ADL SQ279 359 R
AKL SQ281 359
SQ285 359
BNE SQ265 359 R
CHC SQ297 359
MEL SQ207 359 R
SQ217 359 R
SQ237 359 R
PER SQ213 787
SQ223 787
SQ211 787
SQ231 359
SQ288 359
SQ241 359 R
Europe / S. Africa / USA
Dest Flt Days Acft
AMS SQ324 359
BCN SQ388 359
CDG SQ336 359
CPH SQ352 359
FRA SQ26 359
IST SQ392 359
JNB SQ478 359
LAX SQ38 359
LHR SQ322 359
ZRH SQ346 359

Amsterdam and London Heathrow continue to be effectively daily services, with the small number of passenger flights supplemented by dedicated cargo-only services on other days of the week. All seven London flights each week will be upgraded to carry passengers from August 2020.

SQ 787-10 (Boeing)
SIA’s Shanghai route supports 15 Boeing 787-10 cargo-only flights each week. (Photo: Boeing)

Here are the top routes for cargo-only flights last week using the passenger fleet:

  1. Shanghai: 15/week
  2. Melbourne: 11/week
  3. Beijing: 9/week
  4. Hong Kong: 7/week
  5. Bangkok: 7/week

These are in addition to any passenger flights or services with dedicated freighter aircraft that may be flown on the same routes.

Melbourne has jumped up the ‘league table’ this month only because all services operating there have been forced to operate as cargo-only this month, due to government restrictions. Some of these flights fly back to Singapore with both cargo and passengers on board.


Aircraft types

While the total number of flights and the destinations themselves have remained relatively constant, one major change we’ve seen this month is a big shift away from the Boeing 777-300 and -300ER aircraft types on the Singapore Airlines network.

These had already been withdrawn from passenger services, but were still being utilised on cargo-only flights during June, in order to utilise their generous underfloor hold capacity.

Singapore Airlines Fleet
Underfloor cargo capacity
(highest to lowest)
Aircraft Type Cargo Capacity
Bulk loading LD3
777-300/-300ER 201.6 cu m 44
787-10 191.4 cu m 40
A380-800 175.2 cu m 38
A350-900 172.4 cu m 36
A330-300 158.4 cu m 32
777-200/-200ER 150.9 cu m 32
A350-900 ULR 85.7 cu m 16

Singapore Airlines seems to have shifted away from the type completely on its cargo network, with weekly departures from Changi down to just two for the 777-300 (RGN and SUB) and two for the 777-300ER (PEK x2) based on last week’s schedule.

As you can see from the list of flights earlier in the article, the airline is now concentrating almost wholly on its more fuel efficient Airbus A350s and Boeing 787-10s for all its flying, whether passenger or cargo.

Cargo in cabin

Both Singapore Airlines and Scoot now have regulatory approval to carry additional cargo in their main cabins on these cargo-only flights using passenger aircraft, following a successful trial in April.

Indeed 14 of the group’s aircraft are now set aside for this purpose, comprising Airbus A320s, Airbus A350s, Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s.

SIA group airlines can add up to 30% more cargo capacity this way, by utilising overhead locker space and strapping cargo to passenger seats, which have protective covers and netting installed to keep cargo securely in place.

A further step, removing the physical passenger seats themselves for additional cargo space, is also being explored by the group.


Where are the Boeing 747 freighters flying?

Six of SIA’s seven Boeing 747-400 freighter aircraft in SIA’s fleet were busy flying last week, with one in maintenance.

SQC Routemap Jul
(click to enlarge)

Routes include the regular cities in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. There were also some Africa flights last week.

SQC B744 Nose (Singapore Airlines)
SIA’s Boeing 747-400 Freighters can carry over 110 tonnes of cargo. (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

For those interested in what the freighters were up to last week, here are the (sometimes mammoth) journeys they took:

Monday 13th July 2020

  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Delhi – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Anchorage – Los Angeles – Brussels – Mumbai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Bengaluru – Sharjah – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Guangzhou – Singapore

Tuesday 14th July 2020

  • Singapore – Sydney – Auckland – Melbourne – Singapore
  • Singapore – Shanghai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore

Wednesday 15th July 2020

  • Singapore – Chennai – Sharjah – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sydney – Melbourne – Auckland – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Anchorage – Los Angeles – Brussels – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Shanghai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore

Thursday 16th July 2020

  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Anchorage – Dallas – Brussels – Mumbai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sydney – Singapore
  • Singapore – Guangzhou – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sharjah – London – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Shanghai – Singapore

Friday 17th July 2020

  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore
  • Singapore – Shanghai – Singapore

Saturday 18th July 2020

  • Singapore – Sydney – Singapore
  • Singapore – Shanghai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Singapore
  • Singapore – Hong Kong – Anchorage – Dallas – Brussels – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sharjah – London – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Melbourne – Auckland – Melbourne – Singapore

Sunday 19th July 2020

  • Singapore – Chennai – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore
  • Singapore – Sydney – Melbourne – Singapore
  • Singapore – Shanghai – Singapore
  • Singapore – Johannesburg – Nairobi – Amsterdam – Sharjah – Singapore


With 460 passengers per day in June, but nearly 1.7 million kg of daily freight in the same month, Singapore Airlines remains effectively a cargo carrier.

That trend seems to be continuing in July, though there continue to be increased frequencies for passenger flights filtering through to the network.

The growth in cargo-only services does seem to have stalled this month however, with the airline continuing to operate a near identical schedule last week as it did when we checked in June 2020.

787 Cargo Loading (Singapore Airlines)
Boeing 787-10s have the second highest cargo capacity in the SIA passenger fleet. (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

A big shift away from the Boeing 777s is also evident, with the airline now almost completely reliant on the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 for all current operations.

Overall, three quarters of all SIA passenger aircraft departing Changi continue to carry only cargo on board, a situation which looks unlikely to change significantly in the short term.

Click here to see the full passenger flight schedules operated by Singapore Airlines and SilkAir in August 2020.

(Cover Photo: Emily Rusch)


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