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Korean Air’s cargo-only passenger flights operation hits 10,000 mark

Cargo is being loaded onto a Korean Air flight. (Korean Air)
Cargo is being loaded onto a Korean Air flight. (Korean Air)
Korean Air has operated 10,000 cargo-only passenger flights as of Sunday, the airline said on Monday, as it pivoted to the cargo business amid a decline in air travel demand during the pandemic.

The airline first flew a passenger flight carrying only cargo on the Incheon-Ho Chi Minh route in March last year. Since then, it has operated such flights on 65 routes to North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, China and Japan, transporting 400,000 tons of cargo around the world.

Some 40 tons of cargo are transported every round trip on average, the airline explained.

The figure comes as Korean Air began using passenger aircrafts for cargo transport after most flights were suspended following the COVID-19 outbreak.

What began as 38 flights in March last year has now increased to 800 a month, according to its current operation, helping the airline deliver an operating profit for fourth consecutive quarters from the second quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021.

The increase in number was possible through close cooperation with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport and aircraft manufacturers, as well as by utilizing overhead bin space using “cargo seat bags” -- a safety device that can load cargo on passenger seats.

Removing seats also helped enable cargo floor loading, the airline added.

“We expect cargo-only passenger flights to play a more vital role in the second half of the year, when the volume of import and export cargo typically increases,” said a Korean Air representative.

“As a Korean flag carrier, Korean Air will continue its efforts to create a stable logistics environment for imports and exports by actively securing cargo capacity,” the representative said.

According to Korean Air, its cargo volume transported using passenger aircraft sharply dropped to 16,000 tons per month in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak last year. In 2021, however, the figure rebounded to more than 40,000 tons per month, close to pre-pandemic levels.

Cargo-only flights have also helped resolve recent logistics challenges faced by many companies struggling with shipping supply shortages with Korean Air increasing its cargo capacity to support urgent export and import logistics.

By Yim Hyun-su (