The FAA has issued guidance to airlines who want to take the seats out of idle aircraft and fill them with cargo. The drastic drop in passenger traffic has had a parallel effect on available cargo space. Some airlines were flying cargo-only flights with empty seats upstairs but the safety alert for operators (SAFO) issued by the agency gives formal approval for temporary freight conversions. The SAFO says freight can be carried in the overhead bins, on the seats or on the floor, with the seats removed. The seat tracks can be used for tying down the cargo. The weight and balance has to be calculated and the floor strength considered in placing the freight. One or more airline employees have to ride with the cabin freight because there are no fire detection systems in the passenger cabin. The freight can’t block access to the fire extinguishers.
Transport Canada approved conversion of three Air Canada Boeing 777-300s for cabin freight earlier this month and the aircraft have been flying regularly to China to pick up needed medical supplies. The conversion added almost 80 tons to the freight capacity of the heavies and they’ve transported millions of masks and gowns and dozens of ventilators. The airline is also using unconverted 787s and smaller 777-200s in cargo-only service and is doing a total of about 20 freight flights a week to Europe and Asia.