How can air cargo fly on passenger planes?

In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, countries closing their international borders to foreigners has meant many passenger aeroplanes were forced to be grounded. In fact, IATA estimates during this time 1 million flights would have been cancelled. It’s always crucial that countries keep their air cargo imports and exports on the move, but how is this possible when so many passenger planes stop flying?

How do passenger flights impact air cargo movements?

Airlines substitute passenger capacity for cargo to ensure freight can still be moved around the world. A lot of air cargo is transported in the belly of passenger planes – for example, consolidated packages are packed into special containers that fit in the storage area under the passenger compartment, also known as the ‘belly’. A larger passenger plane can hold approximately 415 passengers and over 150m3 of cargo.

How are passenger planes used for cargo?

  • Goods are stored and secured on top of seats, underneath seats and in overhead bins. Some airlines have removed seats to create more room, but there is no regulatory requirement for this
  • As passenger cabins don’t have fire suppression systems installed in cargo compartments, regulators require cabin crew on board the flight – changing their role from flight attendant to in-flight firefighter if an emergency was to occur
  • Entertainment systems, in-seat power and galleys are switched off to avoid overheating
  • Cargo cannot block emergency exists – as with a normal passenger flight, emergency exits must not be blocked by cargo

What happens to dangerous goods?

Regulations forbid cabin cargo from carrying dangerous goods as freight – this includes items such as alcohol-based hand sanitiser and mercury thermometers. IATA’s regulations indicate that large quantities of dangerous goods being transported by air cannot be transported on the cabin floor, overhead compartments or under the seats. For more information on regulations concerning dangerous goods, please see the IATA information sheet. 

It’s important that appropriate regulations are adhered to when transporting dangerous goods. If you’d like more information, please feel free to contact us here.  

Marair Dangerous Goods Specialists

Melbourne

12 Allied Drive
Tullamarine Victoria 3043 Australia
Phone: +61 3 8318 4500

Perth

55 Tacoma Circuit
Canning Vale WA 6155 Australia
Phone: +61 8 6350 0200

Sydney

Unit 7 14 Childs Road
Chipping Norton NSW 2170 Australia
Phone: +61 2 9727 3284

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