A few more Singapore Airlines (SIA) planes will soon be flying with cargo instead of people secured in passenger seats, after a first such flight was completed earlier this month.
This move, along with making use of overhead luggage bins to carry goods, will allow passenger planes to carry up to 30 per cent more cargo, said SIA.
The airline said the new measure was in response to the significantly reduced cargo capacity caused by the cancellation of about 96 per cent of its scheduled passenger flights till the end of next month.
"As such, this initiative is to supplement our existing cargo belly-hold space on the aircraft and allow higher flexibility in moving more cargo, which may be critical during this period," SIA said.
"We will deploy passenger aircraft to carry cargo only when there is a need to do so."
It added that it has to ensure the cargo meets weight, size and various other requirements.
While the main role of passenger planes is to ferry travellers, they also carry cargo on flights to areas not served by cargo planes.
Various airlines worldwide, such as German carrier Lufthansa, have implemented similar measures following the worsening of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused air travel to grind to a halt.
Currently, SIA has a fleet of just seven B747-400 planes dedicated to cargo operations.
An SIA spokesman said the cargo planes are operating as usual but only to specific points in the airline's network.
"Additionally, our cargo planes usually accommodate large and voluminous cargo that is not suited for the belly-hold of passenger planes," he added.
Mr Alexander Cornelius, senior manager for cargo hub operations and unit load device management at SIA, said it takes about six to eight hours to prepare a cabin to carry cargo. Two to three times more cargo loaders are also needed, as more manpower is necessary to manually move, stow and strap the goods.
While such flights are labour-and time-intensive, they fulfil an important role amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Cornelius said: "This initiative, among others, helps to supplement our available cargo capacity and facilitates the movement of more cargo that needs to be transported urgently, such as protective face masks and personal protective equipment."