The “preighter” was an invention of the COVID-19 pandemic. A way for airlines to quickly boost cargo capacity by carrying cargo in passenger cabins, the term was first used by Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) chief executive Carsten Spohr, combining the words “passenger” and “freighter”.
Pre-pandemic, around 50% of global air freight was transported in the bellies of passenger planes. As airlines halted passenger operations due to travel restrictions, cargo capacity also disappeared. But the pandemic also created more demand for air freight in order to transport protective equipment and health supplies around the world.
With no passengers, airlines therefore started coming up with ways to carry cargo in the cabins of aircraft, including specially designed seat bags and boxes to maximize cargo-carrying capacity without damaging seat or in-flight entertainment systems. Some airlines even removed seats entirely to provide more space for cargo.
Now, though, the preighter’s time is coming to an end. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) says it does not plan to issue authorizations for the transport of cargo in passenger cabins beyond July 31, 2022. The agency had been issuing approvals and exemptions for such operations on a case-by-case basis since 2020 to help ease cargo bottlenecks.
“Following a review of the operational context for transport of cargo in passenger cabin, the agency has concluded that the logistical challenges that arose in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 crisis no longer exist to the same extent,” EASA said in a statement.
With countries around the world easing travel restrictions, many airlines are now seeing bookings rise and demand return quickly.
Although capacity crunches are easing, many cargo companies have still said they expect 2022 to be another strong year for air freight, thanks to demand for e-Commerce and as the pandemic continues to create supply chain bottlenecks.
The strong air freight demand seen over the pandemic has also led to a spate of orders for new freighter aircraft or full conversions of passenger aircraft (P2F).
Demand for air freight increased 2.9% year-on-year in February 2022, the International Air Transport Association said on April 6, although it cautioned that the war in Ukraine and rising fuel prices could prove challenging for the market.