Emirates president Sir Tim Clark has said that ramping up the airline’s cargo operations in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis helped to cushion the impact of the industry-wide revenue crunch and protect liquidity.
Emirates quickly started utilising its Boeing 777 passenger aircraft for cargo operations to supplement its SkyCargo freighter fleet when passenger services were suspended in late March because of coronavirus.
Clark said on a video conference on Monday that while the increased cargo-only flights did not make up for the loss in passenger income, they kept “the wolf from the cash door”.
“Being the opportunists that we are, we could see by late March that with the shrinking of global belly-hold capacity and the shortage of freighters, that there was an opportunity,” Clark said during an interview on Arabian Travel Market’s virtual conference.
“Because we had the 777-300 ER, which is a hugely capable aircraft for both medium and long-haul operations, and because we had opted for the large cargo door at the rear of the aircraft, we were able to put 14 pallets into the hold and we’d also taken seats out etc.”
Clark said that out of its fleet of 153 Boeing 777s, Emirates is currently operating 85 of its 777-300 ER passenger jets on top of its 11 freighter Boeing 777s.
“That’s not going to deal with the loss of passenger income but it certainly keeps the wolf from the cash door, which is the real bugbear of the airline industry at the moment,” he said.
Emirates is trying to offset some of the costs associated with having its entire A380 fleet grounded.
Clark added: “It’s not been easy but we’ve done the best we can to optimise whatever opportunities we get on the freight side. There doesn’t seem to be any signs of it going away at the moment so long may it last.”
Between mid-January and mid-March, Emirates SkyCargo alone transported more than 225,000 tonnes of cargo in total out of which 55,000 tonnes were food items including fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood, and more than 13,000 tonnes were pharmaceutical cargo.