A350s become freighters through Airbus pallet-for-seat swap

[Ref Flight International Magazine 12 – 18 May 2020]

Airbus is offering carriers a modification and regulatory support scheme to convert passenger A350s, A330s and A340s temporarily into main-deck freighters by swapping out seats and fitting pallets onto their floor tracks.

Modification is provided to operators under an Airbus service bulletin which sets out not just the engineering work but also manages securing of European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approval.

Safety remains a priority, says Ierovante. Cargo stowage checks have to be carried out before take-off and landing, and whenever requested by the captain. Centre-of-gravity, weight and evacuation criteria must be respected, and fire protection is critical.

Under the EASA guidelines heat-generating systems such as in-flight entertainment, in-seat power, and galley equipment must be de-activated, along with supplemental oxygen systems in the cabin areas. Portable devices powered by lithium batteries, including unnecessary emergency locator transmitters, need to be removed.

Along with the pilots the aircraft must carry trained fire monitors – typically three cabin crew – who must be seated away from the cargo and perform regular safety walks, carrying portable oxygen, to check for any sign of smoke or fire – including in the overhead bins.

Lardet stresses that the EASA regulations forbid any cargo classified as dangerous goods to be transported in the modified passenger cabin.

Airbus is offering to handle this regulatory side, free of charge, by providing all the necessary documentation, with operators only contributing the cost of labour for the modification.

Conversion is typically limited to economy-class seats because premium seats are “more effort” to remove, says project leader and A330/350 programme specialist Matthias Ierovante, adding that galleys and monuments also remain in the aircraft.

Fitting pallets protects the cabin floor and avoids the problem of wear on the cabin seats. Each pallet is capable of holding 260kg (573lb) of cargo, with a volume of about 2.7cb m (95cb ft).

About 30 pallets can be installed on an A350, 28 on an A330, and there is a small demand for equipping A340s. Lardet says Airbus would be prepared to look at A380 modification if customers requested it.

The temporary conversion enables a passenger aircraft to be ready for cargo transport in “a couple of days”, depending on its configuration, and Airbus’s scheme also covers re-installation of the original cabin components to restore the aircraft for passenger operations.

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