Atlanta-based Delta on Monday began limited “cargo-only” service between Detroit and Shanghai. Without passengers on the flights, they instead will be deployed to provide “safe transportation of essential goods using aircraft that would otherwise be parked,” according to a news release.
Flights will leave Detroit every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday for the foreseeable future, with return legs from Shanghai every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Delta says it “will evaluate increasing to daily flights or explore opening additional U.S. gateways, depending on demand.”
Delta, along with all other commercial passenger airlines, has seen its business crushed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. On Jan. 31, it announced all flights between the U.S. and China would be temporarily suspended. As the COVID-19 outbreak spread globally, Delta quickly reduced flight capacity. On March 20, chief executive officer Ed Bastian said in a memo to employees its capacity would fall by 70% in the coming months. On March 27, President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion dollar stimulus packaged that aims to soften the economic blow dealt by COVID-19. The airline industry will receive roughly $58 billion.
Commercial flights typically carry cargo — Delta says it flies 421,000 tons of cargo around the world annually — but planes hauling freight without ticketed passengers is an anomaly. Earlier this month, American Airlines announced its first cargo-only flights since 1984. Delta says it has not scheduled cargo-only flights since Northwest operated them in 2009, during the throes of the last financial crisis.
Delta says these flights will “open vital supply lines” now that production of medical supplies has restarted in China. The Airbus A350-900 planes being used can carry 49 tons of cargo in their hold. Once the freight reaches Detroit, it will be dispersed throughout the U.S. on regular domestic Delta flights.
“We know getting surgical masks, gloves, gowns and other protective equipment expeditiously to facilities across the country is imperative to protecting medical professionals and helping address the COVID-19 situation,” Shawn Cole, vice president of Delta Cargo, said in a prepared statement. “Operating regularly scheduled cargo flights means suppliers in China can get these supplies to hospitals and healthcare facilities across the U.S. within hours, not the days or weeks it would take via cargo ship.”
By Chris Fuhrmeister