With planes grounded, aviation finds new ways to ‘fly’

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With international borders being closed for flyers for over seven months since the Covid-19 pandemic first spread across the world, global airlines and aircraft manufacturers are coming up with innovative ideas to keep themselves afloat financially and also stay alive in the minds of the flying public.

Qantas did a seven-hour flight from and to Sydney airport, with passengers being promised views of the Great Barrier Reef and the Australian Outback as the aircraft flew at a low altitude.

On a different trajectory, Thai Airways has opened a restaurant at its headquarters in Bangkok offering meals that it served on flights. The restaurant, which serves about 2,000 meals per day, is a way of recouping some lost revenue during the pandemic. Thai officials added that the airline was planning to turn other Thai Airways offices into similar dining experiences.

In addition, the media in Thailand reported that the airline has been offering home delivery of in-flight food since April this year.

A look behind the curtain

In a similar move, this month Singapore Airlines will launch ‘Restaurant A380@Changi’, which will offer a dining experience inside the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380.

Come November and Singapore Airlines will also provide an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the airline’s training facilities over two weekends. Visitors can journey through more than 70 years of SIA’s history, interact with the pilots and cabin crew and find out more about the intensive training that they undergo.

In another innovative step, Qantas is turning some of its excess stock of pyjamas, amenity kits and snacks into care packs that can be sent directly to people’s doorsteps. In a statement, Qantas said an individual can send up to 10 packs anywhere in Australia via Qantas.com for $25 per pack or 4,350 Qantas Points, including delivery.

And after 35 years and over 50,000 participants, British Airways took its ‘Flying With Confidence’ course online for the first time last Saturday. Captain Steve Allright explained to the participants how an aircraft works. Among his various lessons was on looking at the cabin crew and seeing how they react to various noises. He encouraged passengers to ask the cabin crew questions if they were anxious about something on the flight.

Cargo route

However, the most important step that the airlines are taking is turning to cargo operations.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), two-thirds of the passenger aircraft (16,000) have been grounded, and airlines worldwide are using 2,300 of this for dedicated cargo operations.

“One hundred and fifty of them (aircraft) have had the seats fully removed to make further and greater cargo volumes,” Glyn Hughes, IATA’s Global Head, Cargo said recently. Brian Pearce, Chief Economist, IATA, added that cargo is one of the bright spots in this very difficult environment. “The cargo business was hit much less than the passenger business,” he added.

Airlines agree. Sanjiv Gupta, Chief Executive Officer, SpiceXpress, says that the airline saw cargo as a major opportunity to grow and to keep the airline in good financial condition. The airline initially converted two Q 400 Bombardier aircraft into all-cargo aircraft by removing the seats, but these were not enough to meet the increasing demand.

“Today, we have six operating and we are converting three more,” Gupta said recently, adding that a lot of towns needed not the large freighters but 5- or 7-tonne freighters.

IndiGo, too, has converted 10 of its aircraft into cargo aircraft and the airline recently tweeted that its Ahmedabad team had flown 13.6 tonnes of cargo (express courier and vegetables) to Dubai.

Aircraft manufacturers are also going the cargo way to make some money. For instance, Boeing coordinated 12 airlift transport missions — including with the Dreamlifter, one of the largest cargo planes in the world — delivering over 4.5 million units of personal protective equipment (PPE) to healthcare professionals in the US. In addition, the US aircraft manufacturer has donated and delivered over 2,25,000 units of PPE, including 1,25,000 units of PPE to Wuhan on a State Department flight, said Salil Gupte, president, Boeing India.

According to Rémi Maillard, President and Managing Director for Airbus India & South Asia, Airbus has been purchasing and supplying millions of face masks and health equipment to the governments of the manufacturer’s home countries. Several missions have been performed by Airbus aircraft, including by the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT), the A400M and Beluga, to transport shipments of masks between different European sites. Armed forces around the world too have been using the A400M and C295 in civilian missions, helping in the fight against the coronavirus.

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