FAA Approves Seatless Airliners For Freight


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.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. I did that too on my RV-7! In addition to a max 100lbs in the baggage compartment, I can put 200lbs in the right seat space!

  2. Surpised the FAA did not say the employees who have to ride in the cabin also have to do the safety announcements — although they could leave out the bit about the life-jacket (bright yellow, useful for the ID of body parts) being under the seat.

  3. Reminds me of the QC 727’s of the early 70’s. Slide out the seats and slide in containers.

    It’s gonna be a while before these airplanes will have paying passengers on board. Instead, keep them flying with paying boxes instead of paying passengers. It could lead to a new shift toward flying cargo rather than passengers for many carriers.

    Should be interesting to see how these airplanes will be loaded without cargo doors, without containers, and full interiors sans seats. Should add some interesting load planner duties in figuring out weight and balance issues too.

    Hopefully, they paid the Canadian freight crew extra hazardous duty pay for making sure the cargo does not shift, catches fire, deal with Covid-19 issues when arriving China, other overseas destinations, and whatever changing home dynamics upon return. I wonder if the cabin freight crew are subject to flight hours/crew rest regs?

    Indeed, necessity is the mother of invention.