With the survival mode “on”, the aviation industry is desperate to look for novel ways to keep their clients and cash reserves in hand for as long as it is possible. For most airlines, cutting expenses is the first order of business. For others, it is a challenge to find new resourceful ways to fatten the profits amid the global economic crisis.

How are airlines keeping things together during these turbulent times? AeroTime has rounded up cases of how inventive carriers might be in search of new revenue streams and attempts to keep credibility. 

Filling the empty cabins: the rise of passenger freights

Refocusing efforts on cargo appears to be the most obvious thing to do. As the demand for air travel had weakened and the need for air cargo surged, airlines started to convert their unused aircraft into freighters. It all began with airlines using passenger jets to deliver medical supplies, equipment of various kinds, industrial parts, and high-demand consumer goods.

Plenty of operators worldwide, including Etihad Airways, KLM, American Airlines, All Nippon Airways, and many others, opted for expanding cargo and modified their passenger jets for goods transportation in order to sustain at least some of the operations. Air cargo rates have spiked drastically amidst pandemic, with rates jumping from 27% (from Hong Kong to North America) to 50% (from Shanghai to Europe) in just two weeks, according to Freightwaves data.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and subsequent crisis have accelerated passenger aircraft groundings at an unprecedented pace. However, some airlines, like Etihad Airways, striving to sustain at least some part of their operations, turned to repatriation or cargo flights - using passenger planes in both cases. 

How come cargo hit stride at such a rate? Before the pandemic hit the world, more than half of cargo was transported in the so-called “belly” of passenger aircraft. Now that the passenger flights are canceled, retailers still need goods in their stores ‒ having, in fact, even higher demands, such as quick restockings on essential goods (masks and hand sanitizers). 

Considered one of a few current sources of growth, air cargo is not a self-sufficient revenue stream that is able to compensate losses in passenger air travel. IATA still estimates airlines will lose up to $252 billion in passenger revenue this year. Nevertheless, the already busy cargo market keeps growing and doesn’t show signs of stopping.

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. 

From airline to a food delivery service?

Others may try the path of goods delivery but keeping things grounded. In another, quite unexpected take of how to stay afloat in the crisis, Russian carrier Ural Airlines has decided to place a premium on food experience on-board.