Delivering products instead of people: Korean Air operates 777 passenger aircraft converted for cargo operations

(Photo: Korean Air)

For the first time, Korean Air has deployed a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft reconfigured for cargo route operations.

The flight, KE9037, left Seoul (ICN) at 10pm on September 8 and arrived at Rickenbacker International Airport, (LCK) Columbus, Ohio, at 10pm the same day.

Columbus, Ohio is an emerging cargo base with distribution centers for American clothing and logistics companies and Korean Air is meeting the demand for items such as automobile parts, electronic devices, and garments.

A Boeing 777-300ER passenger aircraft can carry approximately 22 tons of cargo in cargo belly space. With the removal of passenger seats in the cabin (42 prestige seats, 227 economy seats), the converted aircraft can load an additional 10.8 tons of cargo.

Modification of the aircraft to load cargo in the cabin requires a high level of technical review and competency. It is not just about taking out passenger seats, but also about removing complicated in-flight electrical wiring and installing standardised locks on the floor to keep cargo secured.

Korean Air has already been using the belly space of its grounded passenger aircraft such as the Boeing 787-9 and Airbus 330-300, but this was the first time it used a Boeing 777-300 in this way. From April to September 2020, the airline said an average of 420 cargo-only flights a month were operated on passenger aircraft, with the average monthly transport volume reaching 12,000 tons.