SIA’s low-cost subsidiary Scoot revealed today that it has become the first airline in the SIA Group to completely remove the passenger seats from one of its aircraft since the COVID-19 downturn, repurposing one of its Airbus A320s to carry cargo both in the underfloor hold and the main cabin section.
While the airline has been operating hundreds of cargo-only services over the last few months, most of those have been using its Boeing 787-9 aircraft, which benefit from significant underfloor cargo capacity.
There have also been flights with cargo carried on the passenger seats in addition to the underfloor hold, with one Airbus A320 used this way since May 2020.
On one A320, seats have been completely removed
In order to provide cities with smaller airports enhanced cargo service, the airline has gone one step further by removing all 180 passenger seats from one of its Airbus A320s, 9V-TAZ, in order for the aircraft to accomodate additional cargo in the main cabin.
This also saves the weight of the seats themselves, and removes obstructions during loading and unloading. In turn, cargo capacity is increased to 20 tonnes.
The 9-year-old aircraft was refitted over a four-day period and has so far operated one cargo flight, from Fuzhou to Singapore on 22nd August 2020, transporting 13 tonnes of cargo in both the underfloor hold and the passenger cabin itself.
Four more cargo flights are scheduled for the aircraft for the rest of August.
The airline will also commence similar modification work on a second of its Airbus A320 aircraft later this week, and although no specific registration was revealed the airline confirmed it would be one of its A320ceo aircraft, not one of the three newer A320neos. 9V-TAQ was returned from storage in Alice Springs, Australia in mid-July, so it could be that one.
Scoot has 26 Airbus A320ceos and 3 Airbus A320neos in its fleet.
Scoot’s CEO Campbell Wilson said the modification to 9V-TAZ was the airline’s biggest undertaking to date when it comes to growing cargo capacity, which has become an essential lifeline for many carriers during the significant downturn in passenger demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With many passenger aircraft sitting idle due to the pandemic, Scoot started operating cargo charters to carry essential supplies as an alternative revenue stream. Since then, we have been growing our cargo capacity and capabilities to remain competitive while providing more value for our customers. The modification works carried out on 9V-TAZ are our biggest undertaking to date, and we thank the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) for their support in this endeavour with their certification of the modification works.”Campbell Wilson, CEO, Scoot
The modification of the aircraft was completed under the supervision of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), the aviation safety regulator.
“Scoot has responded nimbly to the market conditions during these challenging times to meet demand for airfreight. CAAS is happy to support their efforts in modifying their passenger aircraft to carry cargo in the cabin. The modified aircraft would enable Scoot to mount freight services between Singapore and key trading markets.”Kevin Shum, Director General, CAAS
Operating the cargo-only aircraft
Scoot has outlined that cargo-only operations with this modified aircraft and the one that follows it will be as follows:
- At least two pilots.
- At least two cabin crew.
- Appropriate training to handle inflight emergencies, including how to identify hazards and situations involving smoke, fumes or fire.
Apart from removing the seats themselves, the modification work also involved installation of placards to demarcate areas where cargo can be placed, and the uplift of additional fire extinguishers.
Could Singapore Airlines follow?
With the majority of the SIA passenger fleet stored in either Singapore or Alice Springs, the question is could the mainline carrier now follow suit and remove passenger seats on some of its own wide-body aircraft?
Singapore Airlines hinted to analysts following its full-year financial results back in May 2020 that it was a possibility, but that no decision had been made.
“Actually strip[ping] out the seats altogether [to] carry more cargo on board… that is something we are exploring at this juncture, but we have not yet made a decision on actually implementing it.”Lee Lik Hsin, EVP Commercial, Singapore Airlines (May 2020)
SIA wouldn’t be alone in refitting wide-body aircraft this way, with other airlines having already done so in recent weeks and months. Finnair has completed the process on a pair of its Airbus A330 aircraft, with EVA Air and Air Canada both refitting some of their Boeing 777-300ERs this way.
Following months of operating only skeleton passenger flight schedules due to the global COVID-19 crisis, airlines are finding more and more inventive ways to earn much-needed revenue and support global supply chains by repurposing aircraft for increased cargo use.
Though that began with securely strapping cargo to passenger seats, as SIA has recently done on 11 of its aircraft, actually removing passenger seats is the next major step.
Scoot is the first airline in Singapore to complete this process, however the option was not ruled out by Singapore Airlines in an analyst briefing a few months ago, so there may be plans on the cards for some SIA passenger aircraft to undergo the same modification, now that Scoot has laid the groundwork and satisfied the national regulator.
For full details, see the Scoot press release.
(Cover Photo: Kittikun Yoksap / Shutterstock)