Air cargo is hot right now, and Eastern Airlines wants in on that action. The company’s previously announced cargo plans – a couple 777-200s – prove to be much more significant. Today Eastern announced intentions for up to 35 777s to fly under a custom cargo conversion unique to the company. The first is expected to enter service in Q1 2022, pending certification.
We are thrilled to offer this service to customers who have struggled to find capacity in the cargo market and to offer a nimble aircraft solution to serve customer needs. This move is not just a game changer for Eastern, it will also transform the industry.– Steve Harfst, Eastern Airlines President and CEO
The planes will be fitted in what Eastern calls an “Express Freighter” configuration. Most significant in this configuration is a fully certified “Class-E” main deck. The fully isolated and fire-controlled layout will offer significant capacity for moving goods across the globe. Eastern claims it will support “a full load of volumetric express cargo non-stop between Asia and the US.”
But it will not be a cargo plane in the traditional sense.
Cargo, without the cargo door
The converted aircraft will not have a cargo door for the main deck. That is a consideration for “future derivative plans” of the type. Ditto for a palletized loading system.
Instead, the regular passenger door arrangement will be used for loading lighter “low-density, express freight” cargo on board.
By Q2 of 2022 the company plans a cargo loading system on the main deck and “bespoke Express ULDs” that will fit through the regular cabin doors but more efficiently load the aircraft.
With the Class E designation the space will be isolated from the crew. This allows for increased loads and some additional flexibility compared to the current “COVID Combi” options flying cargo in temporary retrofit passenger cabins.
But it is very much not a traditional cargo load planned for the main deck.
Planning for lighter loads
Eastern indicates plans to include the 777-200, –200ER, and –300 types in its Express Cargo layout. It will avoid the two other 777 types that are already in higher freight demand.
The –200LR, which is the same base frame as Boeing uses for new delivery 777 freighters, is not mentioned in the plans. Neither is the –300ER, which is amidst initial conversion to freighter service by IAI for lessor GECAS.
Keeping the overall cargo carrying weight down will also be important to the company’s plans for the freighter range. As part of the conversion of the 777-300ER IAI and GECAS expect the range to drop by more than a third, from 7.370 nautical miles to 4,650. That’s still enough to let the plane fly from Hong Kong to Anchorage fully loaded or to Western Europe with a small payload restriction.
A similar reduction in range for Eastern’s feed stock, however, would significantly reduce the cargo opportunities for the planes. By not maxing out the weight on the main deck the company can move lighter, high value goods and maintain the route network needed for efficient cargo operations. And the company expects range to increase from the Boeing published defaults as a result of the design plans.
Making the changes
Securing the STC for conversion of the aircraft will be handled by Foxtrot Aero, LLC. Virtually no public information is available about this company.
A posting for a job in Kansas City, MO calls it a wholly owned subsidiary of Eastern. It is not registered with the Missouri Department of State. Nor does it appear to be registered with the FAA as a repair station.
Eastern CEO Steve Harfst’s comments that the plans could “transform the industry” could also imply that the STC could eventually be used for other operators.
More on the passenger cargo plane revolution of the past 18 months:
- Finnair adds A330 cargo conversion with Lufthansa Technik, Airbus
- Cargo passenger hybrids coming to US airlines
- Peek inside the largest converted cargo aircraft flying today
- Airbus aims to ease “COVID Combi” temporary freighter conversions
- De Havilland, Air Canada Cargo partner on Dash 8-400 cargo conversion
- Converting to cargo: Putting passenger planes to use in the COVID-19 era
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