Tracing Back the Origin: Cargo-On-Seat Flights

The airlines during these unprecedented times came up with a new concept to fly cargo on seat in order to meet the nations demand and stay afloat. This new trend has taken off smoothly, and gradually became the new normal for the airlines. But was it really a new concept? In this feature, Vipan Jain, Chief Operating Officer, Delhi Cargo Service Centre Ltd. takes a leaf from the past to unearth the first use of a cargo-on-seat flight.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic battered airlines and narrowed their chances of survival as the nation goes into a complete lockdown and only essential services were permitted. To stay afloat during these difficult times, airlines quickly adapted to the new concept of cargo-on-seat, where airlines used their grounded passenger aircraft to transport essential cargo to meet the demand.

The new concept made headlines. “In a first, cargo travels across the nation on aircraft seats.”

SpiceJet, India’s budget airline, on 7th April last year operated the country’s first on-seat flight carrying vital supplies in the passenger cabin and belly space from Delhi to Chennai. The airlines deployed a Boeing-737 NG aircraft after and carried 11 tonnes of vital supplies in the passenger cabin and belly space. The aircraft did five rounds between Delhi, Chennai, Surat, Mumbai, and Delhi again, to deliver essentials in a very short period.

While the new concept came as a life jacket for the airlines and was gaining popularity by the hour, we wondered if the concept was to be the first-ever?

And, we found the answers to our questions when we connected with logistics veteran Mr Vipan Jain. During a casual conversation, Mr Jain shared with us his personal experience and unknowingly answered all our queries regarding the concept of cargo-on-seat.

The conversations revealed that the concept of cargo-on-seat was not really something new, but a tried and tested experiment being repeated.

We came to know that the cargo-on-seat concept was first introduced in India three decades ago in 1991. And, Mr Jain, who at the time was associated with Lufthansa as their Cargo Division Supervisor, had the first-hand experience of handling cargo traveling on seat of a commercial aircraft.

Sharing his experience, he says, “It was Dussehra night on 17th Oct1991 and I remember this due to some personal reasons. It was a key achievement as the concept was brand new.”

He informed that the A300 aircraft of Indian Airlines was going to Hamburg (HAM) Germany for technical check and LH Cargo at that time used this opportunity and captured the capacity.

The aircraft took nearly 18 tons of LH cargo o/b including approx. 7 tons on seats, mainly garments. The situation at that time was very critical as far as capacity is concerned and therefore carriers were looking for every inch of space o/b due to overall high dwell time, he added.

Reminiscing the moment, he said, “The boxes on seats were lashed with straps and net on top to secure cargo during the entire journey of the flight. The aircraft has to make one fuel stoppage in the Middle East on the way to Germany.”

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