May 25, 2020 - Economy & Business

Airlines turn to shipping cargo to offset coronavirus losses

Passenger aircraft operated by Lufthansa, British Airways and Lufthansa stand parked in a storage facility in Spain

Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic are among the many airlines opting to transition to hauling cargo — sometimes in empty passenger cabins — after the coronavirus pandemic gutted demand, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: It's another example of how the pandemic is changing the economics of the airline industry, which has been transporting medical equipment around the word to battle the coronavirus — as well as more traditional items like mail, seafood and smartphones.

The state of play: Typically, half of all air freight is transported through companies like UPS, FedEx and DHL and the other half is in the baggage holds of passenger planes.

  • Virgin had never flown a cargo-only flight before the pandemic and is now operating 90 such flights a week.
  • American Airlines is flying nearly 140 cargo flights a week.

Yes, but: While the practice offers some momentary relief for airlines, the tenuous state of the world economy could bring a drop in demand for goods, calling freight rates to fall as well.

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