When the going gets tough, the tough get innovative. That’s what Air Canada has done by converting three Boeing 777s (our biggest aircraft) into cargo‑only transporters. All economy and premium economy class seating has been replaced by engineered tie downs and nets so these planes can carry medical supplies from around the world. The seat‑free cabin can accommodate up to 144 cubic metres of cargo on top of the 140 cubic metres available in the hold (belly) – altogether, about 1,000 boxes. That’s a lot of carry‑on! And, because these supplies are light (like carrying ping‑pong balls instead of heavy machinery) the loads bulk out before weight can become a factor. What’s more, our cargo‑only runs are a hit: 17 cities are now served by the new cargo service, and cargo was behind Air Canada’s longest ever flight – a 16.5‑hour Sydney‑to‑Toronto run on April 27. Also, three converted Airbus A330 passenger aircraft will join the effort in the coming days.
Capt. Doug Morris takes us behind the scenes of Air Canada’s project to turn passenger jets into cargo carriers.
Innovation also sparks motivation, and Air Canada employees are stepping up to make these airlifts happen. Two AMEs (Aircraft Maintenance Engineers), also trained in firefighting and first aid, tag along on each 777 combo flight and inspect the cabin every 30 minutes. I recently flew such a mission on the Boeing 787‑9 Dreamliner to Shanghai, with a layover in Tokyo Narita Airport. (On the 787‑9, the cabin seats are not removed – we only fly cargo in the belly). I have to say it was a strange feeling to walk through the airplane with 298 empty seats and no flight attendants. But, we adapt. Heck, we pilots have to figure out how to make coffee, heat our meals, and get acquainted with the entertainment system to watch movies during crew rest. We look like kids in a kitchen, opening each and every cupboard. And I have ever more appreciation for Air Canada flight attendants.
Doug Morris is an author, meteorologist, instructor and Air Canada captain on the Boeing 787.