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Air Canada To Convert Boeing 767s Into Dedicated Freighters

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As Air Canada reported its third-quarter financial results Monday, the airline said it is looking to convert some of its recently retired Boeing 767s into dedicated cargo-only aircraft. However, first, the carrier needs to reach an agreement with its pilots.

Air Canada 767 Cargo Conversions
Air Canada intends to permanently convert some of its retired Boeing 767s to dedicated freighter aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

The year 2020 has certainly meant a marked increase in the makeshift and dedicated freighter conversion market. As Air Canada has withdrawn 25 Boeing 767 from its leisure subsidiary Air Canda Rouge, it is looking to use them on the newfound up-and-coming cargo market.

International cargo expansion subject to pilot agreements

As the capacity for belly cargo in passenger planes has drastically declined along with scheduled services, demand for cargo-only services has soared. In its earnings call for the third quarter, attended by Simple Flying, Air Canada said that its cargo efforts would continue to be mainly international. To support this endeavor, it intends to convert some of the widebody 767 recently retired from Air Canada Rouge.

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However, to fully expand into the long-haul cargo business and deploy its converted 767s, Air Canada says it still needs to agree on terms with its pilots. Working cargo-only would mean different conditions, for instance, flying mostly at night.

Meanwhile, Air Canada also said it might not be making any particular investments in temperature-controlled cargo in a bid to transport a COVID-19 vaccine for the Canadian government. Rather, the carrier would offer the service it can with its existing fleet.

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Air Canada cargo conversion 767
While makeshift cargo aircraft keep their doors, a full conversion means cutting a hatch in the fuselage. Photo: Air Canada

Not the first passenger-to-freighter for Air Canada

The airline has previously enlisted three of its Boeing 777s and three of its Airbus A330s to ferry medical supplies. Those conversions are temporary. From the 777s and A330s, the airline removed the planes’ economy and premium economy seats while maintaining the existing floor. This means that the weight they can hold in the cabin remains fairly limited.

Boxes of face masks and other medical equipment may not require a reinforced floor. Meanwhile, a conversion into a fully-fledged, dedicated cargo-freighter to carry heavier payloads is a different business entirely. The interiors need to be completely stripped, and the cabin floor needs to be strengthened. A loading hatch needs to be cut out of the fuselage. The passenger doors are deactivated, and the windows blocked out.

Technically the aircraft will become 767 BCFs – Boeing Converted Freighters. These can carry up to 52 tonnes of payload and, according to Boeing, do so at lower costs than their competition.

Air Canada cargo conversions
Air Canada has previously temporarily converted 777s and A330s to carry medical supplies. Photo: Air Canada

In good cargo-company

Air Canada is far from the only commercial airline earning some extra-curricular revenue by taking out seats in favor of boxes and pallets. KLM recently operated its 100th makeshift freighter flight, and Ethiopian Airlines operated no less than 25 temporary cargo conversions at one point earlier this year.

However, most commercial carriers now operating make-shift passenger jets are, thus far, intending for the change to be reversible. Meanwhile, Air Canada had decided that the 767s would leave its fleet not too far in the future, even before the pandemic struck. As long-haul passenger demand is predicted to remain severely stunted for the next couple of years, a permanent cargo conversion seems a sensible thing to do.

What are your thoughts on Air Canada’s plans to convert its 767s? Let us know in the comments.

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