With the COVID-19 pandemic, the passenger traffic has ground to a halt in many countries. The airliners are parked and their crews sit idle.

At the same time, the air freight market booms. From a decline in demand in the first months of the year, there isn’t enough freighter capacity right now. The freight that traveled in the bellies of the passenger jets had to find new ways and as this was almost half the world’s air cargo, the dedicated freighters can’t absorb the volumes.

Is it time to fly passenger airliners as substitute freighters? Some airlines are doing this on a spot basis. Apart from injecting capacity for needed medical supply freight, does it make economic sense? We run a series of articles on the subject.

Figure 1. Delta flies an A350-900 as a belly freighter between Shanghai and Chicago three times a week from March 30. Source: Delta. Summary:

Freight prices soar as capacity collapses when airlines ground passenger jets.

For the airlines, the cost equation changes with an abundance of free capacity at remaining fixed costs.

Does it make economic sense to run passenger airliners as freighters in this situation?