Indian low cost carrier Spicejet joined the bandwagon of global airlines which converted passenger aircraft into freighters as airlines find ways to sustain the current times and dip in passenger demand due to COVID19.
Spicejet operates a fully owned subsidiary named SpiceXpress which operates a fleet to five B737 series aircraft – a mix of B737-700 and B737-800. These will now be joined by the Q400 which recently underwent the conversion.
SpiceXpress was launched in September 2018 and since the grounding of commercial services from 25th March this year, the airline has been on the forefront of cargo operations by deploying its five freighters as well as passenger aircraft in the fleet – which carried cargo on seat in addition to the belly. The airline has landed at multiple countries from Sudan to South Korea during this period and carried
Spicejet is not the only airline to convert the Q400s to carry cargo; recently Ethiopian Airlines converted five of its Q400s for cargo operations. The aircraft in question are VT-SUB delivered in August 2011 and named Heeng, VT-SUD – delivered in Sep 2011 and named Tejpatta and VT-SUE – delivered in Sep 2011 and named Elaichi. The three aircraft were in 78 seat configuration. In September 2018, Spicejet became the first airline in the world to operate the 90 seat Q400 when it took delivery of VT-SQA. The converted Q400s have a cargo capacity of 8.5 tons each. While the press release of the airline mentioned that these aircraft would be used to operate to Tier II and Tier III cities, the range of the aircraft allows the airline to operate between metro routes as well.
Globally airlines have been converting their aircraft to carry cargo. Air Canada and Air New Zealand were one of the first ones to make the move in absence of a dedicated cargo aircraft in their fleet. The conversion to carry cargo did not convert the aircraft into a freighter one for most of the airlines but enabled additional space for cargo with markings to ensure safe and secure movement of cargo, by removing the seats.
The conversion of Q400 conversion to cargo does not require extensive time on ground and involves removing all passenger seats and seat track covers followed by installation of cargo nets with adjustable straps on the seat tracks.
The below image from De Havilland Aircraft – the owner of Dash 8 – 400 gives the details visually.
Going forward cargo could make up a big portion of the revenue for the airline as it battles a muted passenger demand and uncertain regulations and resumption of services across the country and abroad.
Image Courtesy: Spicejet