+ A

Korean Air picks up slack with cargo

Mar 16,2020
Korean Air is retasking passenger planes for cargo duty as travel demand plummets on the coronavirus outbreak.

The company has suspended service on 89 of 124 routes and reports that its passenger numbers are down by 86 percent. As of Sunday afternoon, 137 countries had restrictions in place for travelers flying in from Korea.

“We normally load cargo on passenger flights as well, but the overall delivery was affected as Korean Air stopped operation on 89 of 124 routes due to travel bans,” said a Korean Air spokesman, adding that “cargo demand is relatively steady.”

Using passenger planes for cargo instead of having them sitting idle reduces the parking fees the carrier has to pay, which is proportional to the length of time planes are in one spot.

The exact figures differ depending on the model, but a one-day parking charge for a plane weighing 89 tons is around 440,000 won ($363) and a 65-ton plane is about 320,000 won.

From Friday, Korean Air is operating an Airbus A330-300 to handle cargo to and from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It stopped flying passengers on that route from March 3, after the Vietnamese government stopped travelers from entering the country without a visa. The passenger plane, which can hold up to 20 tons of cargo, has been sending exports, including agricultural products, to the country.

Qingdao, China, has been closed to Korean passenger traffic since Feb. 25, but the carrier plans to send cargo to the city’s airport from March 21.

The idea was suggested by Korean Air Chairman Cho Won-tae, who called for rapid moves to adapt to a rapid change in demand as a result of the coronavirus.

“With flights above the Atlantic blocked due to the United States, we need to understand that passengers and cargo will move differently than how they did in the past,” Cho said. Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump placed a 30-day travel ban on 26 European countries.

Airlines have been hard hit by the coronavirus. A score of companies are in a state of emergency.

On Sunday, the Federation of Korean Industries, a business lobby, stressed that air carriers are in desperate need for additional government support. It requested tax cuts and reduced airport usage fees.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON AND MOON HEE-CHUL [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]