Emirates looks at permanently converting passenger jets into freighters

by Callum Tennant
An Emirates plane takes to the skies

Emirate’s CEO, Tim Clark, has announced that the airline is “looking very seriously” at the possibility of converting some of its passenger 777s into freight-only aircraft. Tim Clark revealed the news during his keynote interview at this year’s World Aviation Festival.

Which planes would Emirates convert, and why?

 The Coronavirus pandemic has seen a prolonged boom in the levels of cargo being transported by air world-wide. In February, almost a year after the pandemic began, air cargo rates were still 9% above 2019 levels.

Speaking about increased rates of air cargo Tim Clark said that: “[rates] will continue to be high as long as the pandemic remains in place, that’s the paradox of this situation”.

However, he predicted that going forward it was possible that freight prices could rise, due to a reduced widebody aircraft capacity, as a consequence of airlines retiring and evening “cutting up” their old widebody aircraft.

An Emirates plane overhead

It is in that context that Emirates is looking at converting a “number of 777-300ers… which are coming up to the end of their passenger lives. We’re looking at retaining those and basically converting them into freighters.”

Tim Clark went on to add that with the 777-300ers performance and capabilities that as freighters “they would fit into our network very well”. The CEO also stated how lucky airlines were that there had been a high demand for air cargo, which has provided many airlines with a vital revenue stream during the pandemic.

One of the world’s most luxurious airliners now strapped for cash

 Emirate’s CEO also made the shocking statement that unless air travel recovers, Emirates could run out of money within 6-8 months.

Whilst insisting that Emirates is in a good economic position, and that everything is dependent on markets recovering, Tim Clark did not rule out asking the UAE for an injection of equity. He also stressed that the airline’s balance sheets are pretty strong, so the airline could take on more debt if needed.

The CEO also voiced his concern that it was becoming: “progressively more difficult to be able to forecast what countries are going to open, under what set of rules”. He went on to state that Emirates had originally thought that by April or May of this year, the market would start to see an uptick in demand.

An Emirates A380

 The A380 lives on… for now

No interview with Emirates would be complete without some question on the giant Airbus A380 though. Emirates is by far the largest operator of the aircraft, owning over 100 of the superjumbos.

However, despite other airlines retiring or grounding their A380’s as a result of the pandemic, Tim Clark said that Emirates will “retain A380s for as long as we can”. Stating that the aircraft would be flying with Emirates until at least the 2030s.

Tim Clark also said he was worried about the general shift in the market towards smaller wide-body aircraft, questioning whether this would limit capacity at major hub airports, such as Heathrow and Frankfurt, in the future as growth in demand returns to the sector.

What do you think of Emirate’s plans? Let us know in the comments below.

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