The world has undergone some pretty massive changes in the last few months, thanks mainly to a global pandemic that has changed the way we do everything. One of those industries that have been most affected is the travel industry. Owning an airplane is now incredibly expensive mostly if it spends most of its time on the tarmac with passengers restricted from traveling. Even the extra COVID-19 regulations can increase the cost of flying the plane. The pandemic also affected the popularity of commercial pilot license at schools. For some people, this is just not practical; therefore, they are looking at transforming passenger aircraft into cargo carriers to repurpose their vehicles and pivot their business. So just how is this done?
The transformation process is certainly not a new concept in any way, but it is something that was not particularly popular until this recent shift. Generally, it is not easy to change what was built and designed as a passenger aircraft into a cargo carrier, but it is cheaper than starting again with a new purpose-built plane. For this reason, it has also been something that cargo companies have done quite deliberately, they have gone looking for old passenger planes specifically to reconfigure as it works out a lot less expensive in the long run. If you have a lot of grounded passenger planes, it, therefore, makes a lot of sense for companies who are no longer able to fly people to look at flying cargo instead. Obviously, supplies have had to continue all over the world of food, clothes, medicine, and all sorts of things where flying is the safest, quickest way to get things to their destination.
In order for a plane to be suitable for conversion, it should probably not have any more than 40,000 flight hours as hauling cargo is tough. As a very temporary fix, some airlines simply use transport boxes, and the existing passenger seat belts just secure them, but of course, this is not the best way of doing business as the weight limit and volume are severely underutilized because the seats are basically in the way. Any conversion has to be carried out by a company that can also provide the certification required to evidence that things have been done correctly and safely. In order to begin the process, every internal fixation is removed; this includes all of the seats, the toilets, the luggage compartments, and the galleys.
The floor of a cargo plane is made of a rollerball carpet as this is the simplest way to ensure pallets can move easily. This also means that many of the initial wires and cabling need to be removed to create a clear path. There are different regulations required for a cockpit of a cargo carrier plane, so this will also need to be overhauled to meet those, and this includes fire detection, fire suppression, and ventilation systems. The aircraft will also require new temperature controls depending on what sort of cargo it is going to haul and what kind of temperature this must therefore be stored at.
The next problem that needs to be overcome is the size of the doors. Passage doors are obviously not wide enough to load and unload large pallets of cargo with any ease. A freight plane does not require an emergency exit so all entries will be sealed up and made inactive. Cargo hatches are fitted instead, and these generally are down the side of the fuselage, and odd hatches that open in an upwards direction offering a much wider loading area than a door. An engineering stress analysis will need to be carried out to ensure that the center of balance and weight limitations can be observed and part of this means that the frame is reinforced. The floors are replaced to create a suitable area for bulky cargo. Every single part of the transformation has to meet the safety requirements in order to get the certification at the end. No step can be skipped or skimped.
If you think about a van that carries cargo, you may be aware that there is a bulkhead between the driver and the loading area. A similar bulkhead and cargo net are installed to protect the crew and ensure that the cargo cannot shift in transit and slide forwards hitting the cabin, which would block their exit or worse. The bulkhead must be able to cope with hits of up to 9g. Also if there is a fire in the cargo area, it is imperative that smoke cannot get into the cockpit area which is another reason why this metal bulkhead which will be sealed into place is so important. In the event of a problem, it means the pilot can get on safely making an emergency landing rather than coping with fire and fumes.
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