Plane travel, COVID-19: A380 stripped of its seats to make way for cargo

There is barely a clearer example of the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on global air travel: an Airbus A380, the world's largest passenger aircraft, has been stripped of its seats to make way for cargo.

The move by Portuguese leasing company Hi-Fly is indicative of the monumental slump in passenger numbers that carriers around the globe have experienced over the last few months.

Though easing travel restrictions means planes are taking to the skies once more, Hi-Fly clearly believes there are not enough punters to fill a 525-seat, double decker. 

Hi-Fly said it has "temporarily" removed the economy seats on "some of its aircraft", including its A380, "to meet the high demand during the covid-19 crisis".

The A380, which can carry up to 853 passengers, is now able to offer more than 300 cubic metres of volume and up to 60 tonnes of cargo. 

Credit: Hi-Fly

Credit: Hi-Fly

Hi-Fly is not alone in its thinking. At the height of the pandemic, Iata, the International Air Travel Association, said cargo flights were the only light in the darkness of a global lockdown. Virgin Atlantic, while grounding all passenger flights, began operating cargo-only services.

In May, such was the scale of the drop in passenger flights that a remote Alaskan airport, key in the global cargo networks, briefly became the world's busiest hub

The transformation of the A380 is also an omen for the future of the behemoth. While airlines wait for demand to pick up again, many have grounded their largest aircraft, with some retiring their A380s (Emirates, Qantas and Air France) or 747s (Qantas, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic) altogether.

Credit: Hi-Fly

Credit: Hi-Fly

It was a trend in favour of smaller planes that are easier to fill that led this A380 into the hands of Hi-Fly in the first place. 

It was in 2017 that the superjumbo operated at the time by Singapore Airlines was returned to the Dr Peters Group leasing group, who, unable to find another airline to take it, mothballed the plane at a facility in Toulouse. 

Then, in 2018, Hi Fly announced it would be taking delivery of its first A380, making it the fourth European carrier to operate the double-decker plane. 

"This acquisition has been part of our company's plans for a while," said president Paulo Mirpuri. "It is a very proud moment for Hi Fly."

The Telegraph, London

See also: Fuselage for the last A380 superjumbo squeezes through French village

See also: Farewell, jumbo: Qantas announces final flights for last 747