Having operated Boeing 747s for almost 50 years, the Queen was always a crucial part of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ fleet. With the outbreak of COVID-19 and reduced cash flows, the airline, much like others around the world, was forced to cut its costs. Unfortunately, the plan to retire its 747s on the 50th anniversary of flight operations with KLM’s colors was cut short. The airline’s last flight with the 747 on March 29, 2020, when the aircraft landed in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS).

However, the pandemic threw another spanner in the works. As a result of significant capacity reductions between the Netherlands and Asia, coupled with the need to transport medical equipment and other supplies, KLM, partnered with Philips and the Dutch government, will launch a cargo bridge between the Netherlands and China.

The air bridge will start operations from April 13, 2020, and will be active for the next six to eight weeks, indicated the airline. Furthermore, the aircraft that was just retired will once again take-off to the skies: the Boeing 747-400. KLM will fly two 747s to China and will operate two weekly flights to Beijing and three weekly flights to Shanghai, China. The flights will add an extra 250 tonnes of cargo capacity between the two countries, according to the Dutch carrier.

Out of the 10 Boeing 747s that KLM currently owns, three are full freighters, while five aircraft are combi: configured to carry both passengers and large cargo. The combi aircraft have a separate cargo deck at the back of the aircraft.

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When the United States imposed travel restrictions on 26 different European countries on March 14, 2020, the air cargo industry turned upside down.  “The next day there was a sudden influx of air cargo from Europe into the USA, because the capacity of passenger aircraft, the belly space which accounts for approximately 30% of the world’s cargo capacity on flights from Europe to the USA, were suddenly non-existent,”says Pierre Van der Stichele, Group Director for Cargo Operations at Chapman Freeborn.  Rytis Beresnevicius from AeroTime News spoke with Pierre Van der Stichele, Group Director for Cargo Operations at Chapman Freeborn, an Avia Solutions Group family company that specializes in air charter operations.