South Korea’s Asiana Airlines has become the world’s first airline to embody the Airbus solution to convert an Airbus A350 passenger cabin to carry freight. This solution, packaged as an Airbus Service Bulletin (SB) no. SB 25-P170 was developed in close cooperation between Airbus, European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and Asiana.
The modified A350 was put into service in the last week of September flying the Seoul-Los Angeles route, transporting IT and electronic equipment, as well as e-commerce exports such as clothing.
From October, the aircraft will service additional high-demand routes including Seoul-Ho Chi Minh. The project required the replacement of 283 economy seats with cargo pallets on the cabin floor to firmly secure cargo loads. The two-week modification increases the aircraft’s cargo capacity by five additional metric tonnes to 23 tonnes. Amidst the global impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry, Asiana is pursuing an active response towards utilizing the cargo-carrying capabilities of its passenger airliner fleet to expand its cargo capacity.
Since the onset of COVID-19 earlier in the year, EASA issued exemption guidelines to airlines for the transportation of medical and urgent cargo. Airbus then worked with EASA to develop an SB for the modification of passenger aircraft, which Asiana adopted. Once the SB was granted, the Airbus field service team in South Korea helped to facilitate discussions between the Airbus’ Flight Ops Support team in Singapore, together with its Flight Ops Support and Engineering Support teams based in Toulouse.
Compared with loading cargo onto seats, the Airbus SB solution – announced in April this year – facilitates easier and quicker loading and unloading operations, as well as reduced ‘wear & tear’ to the seats themselves. Other important benefits for airlines include the added security of robust fire protection, and the 9g load restraint capability to prevent anything from shifting in flight. Its scope includes the removal of the seats & IFE (Inflight Entertainment), installation of cargo pallets and associated safety equipment – and also the re-installation of the original passenger cabin elements for reverting back to passenger operations. The SB approach will also be valid beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.