Swiss International Air Lines is carrying a greater variety of cargo in passenger cabins after four months of only being allowed to use the upper deck for shipments of COVID-19-related medical supplies.
Swiss Air Lines’ cargo division said it recently received approval from the Swiss aviation agency to transport general cargo in the cabin. Swiss flew its first flight a week ago from Dubai International Airport to Zurich with garments and other fashion-related goods in the passenger area.
The Lufthansa Group subsidiary has used widebody aircraft exclusively for cargo purposes since late March, but nontraditional use of cabin space was limited to medical supplies such as face masks and surgical gloves, as well as medicines and related humanitarian goods used to combat the novel coronavirus.
Swiss WorldCargo has the option of putting boxes of personal protective equipment, and now other products, in the seats and overhead bins of many aircraft or on the floor of three Boeing 777-300s that have had their Economy seats removed.
Other types of cargo that can now ride on the main passenger deck include glassware, perishables, printing materials, machinery, electronic parts, aircraft parts and flowers.
Commercial cargo in the cabin is currently allowed on flights to Shanghai, Beijing, Bangkok, São Paulo and Johannesburg, Swiss WorldCargo said.
Aviation safety regulators have taken different approaches to permitting cargo in the cabin. Many agencies, such as Switzerland’s Federal Office of Civil Aviation, were quick in responding to airline requests for temporary exemptions from aircraft operating certifications, especially to carry urgent hospital gear, so they could take advantage of a new business opportunity in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
The Federal Aviation Administration placed weight and height restrictions on cargo carried in passenger cabins, as well as prohibiting dangerous goods, instead of limiting commodities by type. But it also took much longer to grant U.S. carriers permission to transport cargo and mail in the cabin, first in approved storage areas, then in the seats and finally on the floor with seats removed.
Cargo put in the cabin requires extra steps and personnel compared to bulk loading on pallets that can be stored in the lower deck of widebody aircraft.
(Correction: An earlier version of this story showed the Zurich flight in the wrong direction.)