How Do Passenger Airliners and Cargo Aircrafts Differ?

Pop quiz! Which one is a passenger airliner and which one is a cargo aircraft from the following pictures?

If you were hesitant in your answer, continue reading till the end and you will be able to tell them apart!

Air travel demand has plummeted ever since it became difficult to travel abroad due to COVID-19. On the flip side, cargo demand has increased with growing e-commerce, and you may have heard that many airlines started operating again by converting their passenger airliners into cargo aircrafts.

How are passenger airliners and cargo aircrafts different? How can airlines turn passenger airliners into cargo aircrafts and continue operating? Today, we will look at a case of using cargo aircrafts to overcome COVID-19, and look at the differences between passenger airliners and cargo aircrafts.

Is it a cargo aircraft if you just take out the seats?

According to the aviation analytics company Cirium, airlines are trying to convert about 90 passenger airliners into cargo aircrafts this year—36% more than before. With growing cargo demand due to increasing e-commerce, more are trying to turn old passenger airliners into cargo aircrafts.

Source: Korean Air

Korean Air is a prime example. Korean Air is the first airline in Korea that turned their passenger airliners into cargo aircrafts. It filed for approval from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, and obtained final approval after passing the manufacturer Boeing’s technical review and the Aviation Safety Inspector’s qualification and safety inspection. In fact, it requires more than simply removing seats for airliners to be converted into a cargo aircraft, including various technical reviews and capabilities. As in the above pictures, it is required to remove complex electrical wires in the cabin and install locks to fasten cargo.

Korean Air, which posted profit gains with its strategy to turn their passenger airliners into cargo aircrafts, was recognized positively for swiftly responding to COVID-19, and was awarded the President Award in the Business Innovation Grand Prize at the end of last year.

Five differences between passenger airliners and cargo aircrafts!

We explained that it is possible to turn passenger airliners into cargo aircrafts and operate them. Still, there exists a fundamental difference due to their structures. Let’s take a look at how passenger airliners and cargo aircrafts are different!

(1) Windows and seats

The biggest structural difference between passenger airliners and cargo aircrafts is whether there are windows or seats. Cargo aircrafts do not have windows and seats. Seats behind the cockpit are prepared for animals or plants that require special care. Instead, there are doors to load goods at the top and side of the aircraft.

(2) Floor

Cargo aircrafts need to reinforce their floor to support heavy cargo. To increase a load, they also need to reinforce wing junctions.

(3) Lifespan

Cargo aircrafts last 10 years longer than passenger ones. While it costs more for maintenance, including engine replacement, it does not have windows, which helps to build less metal fatigue.

(4) Load

Cargo aircrafts carry a higher load than passenger airliners, right? In general, passenger airliners assume 120 kg per person on average with the so-called “safety coefficient.” Cargo aircrafts can load only up to the weight capacity of 100 tonnes. Hence, they also have shorter range.

(5) Operating time

One of the characteristics with cargo aircrafts is that they have many night flights. Since immigration procedures are completed during the day for international flights, they depart late at night or early in the morning. Of course, another reason is that they avoid overlapping with busy passenger flight time slots. Passenger flights are operated more during the day as people move more during the day.

While there may be more differences between passenger airliners and cargo aircrafts, we have introduced the five most notable ones. Now, you can tell them apart when you look at airplanes flying in the sky or from pictures, though it would probably be difficult to tell them apart if just the interior of passenger airliners are converted to cargo aircrafts. 😊

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