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Swiss adapts fleet and operations to keep freight flying

Cargo iQ member Swiss International Air Lines has been on some journey since the start of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the middle of March.

The airline’s cargo arm Swiss WorldCargo moves cargo solely in the belly of its Boeing and Airbus passenger aircraft, but after much of its fleet was grounded, it had to think outside the box to keep the cargo flowing from Switzerland.

Swiss WorldCargo’s Head of Cargo, Ashwin Bhat (pictured above), explains how the carrier has adapted its operations to meet demand.

Please describe the journey that SWISS International Air Lines has been on during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic was completely unexpected, and required us to quickly change our way of working and adapt our processes in diverse ways.

SWISS and Swiss WorldCargo quickly reacted so that even with passenger travel restrictions, we would continue to ensure connections between Switzerland’s supply chains and the rest of the world, and vice versa.

Since then, we have developed our network of cargo-only routes, which have served to transport important medical goods and equipment to/from Switzerland, while also ensuring the continued flow of regular cargo.

What actions has SWISS taken operationally since the COVID-19 pandemic started?

At the beginning of the crisis, Swiss WorldCargo quickly established a charter project team from different and diverse departments throughout SWISS, dedicated to ensuring that the global supply chains could still be connected and that cargo could continue to be shipped throughout the world.

Due to passenger travel restrictions, the charter team was able to ensure that cargo-only flights could continue to take place and transport goods throughout the world; this, in turn, ensured continued connections between Zurich, Switzerland and the rest of the world.

A major initial focus was the import of PPE (personal protective equipment) and other medical/humanitarian goods, transported from abroad to Switzerland.

How has SWISS remodified and adapted its fleet during the crisis?

SWISS has continued to benefit from its long and short-haul aircraft, including Boeing 777-300ERs, Airbus A340 and Airbus A330, which are particularly well-suited for carrying cargo.

Alongside the development of its cargo-only network, SWISS also began to modify certain aircraft within the fleet. Specifically, the Boeing 777-300ERs were refurbished to remove the seats, which can add several tons of additional cargo capacity on a given flight.

Meanwhile, Airbus A340 and Airbus A330 aircraft began to carry cargo on the seats on some flights. This is especially important for flights carrying humanitarian goods, such as PPE.

Please tell us about how you have converted four Boeing 777-300ERs into ‘freighters’?

Swiss WorldCargo worked to significantly modify three of its existing Boeing 777-300ERs – including through a removal of the seats on these aircraft.

This frees up a large amount of space and allows for an additional transport of up to 12 tons of cargo.

These aircraft have now been in service for several weeks, and this has been extremely beneficial in allowing us to transport higher amounts of cargo during times when there is a higher demand to do so and we could utilize the space which is available with the impact on lower passenger travel enforced by strict travel restrictions.

How have you developed your global cargo-only network? Where have you been flying to?

The cargo-only network has continued to grow in recent weeks. It includes a range of different destinations that are part of the regular SWISS network, with destinations ranging from Chicago to Hong Kong and encompassing flights to Europe (various flights), Asia (PVG, NRT, PEK, HKG, SIN, BKK, BOM, SZE), North and South America (ORD, EWR, JFK, GRU, YTO) and Africa and the Middle East (JNB, DXB, TLV).

How proud is SWISS at the way staff have responded during COVID-19?

We are very proud of our staff and their quick reaction during this crisis. Our charter team was especially quick in reacting to these challenging circumstances, and were able to successfully overcome to the challenge in quick fashion.

More information about our charter team can be found here:

What is your future vision for aviation and air cargo post-COVID-19?

It is very difficult to make a prediction about this right now. We will continue to do what we can to support SWISS and connect the world’s different logistics centres; nonetheless, we also hope that the situation will continue to improve.

Has being a member of Cargo iQ helped SWISS during the pandemic?

Yes, absolutely. We greatly value our partnership with Cargo iQ and look forward to continued successful partnerships in the future.

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