Emirates flight EK2503 took off from Dubai to Kuwait. Although operated on a Boeing777300ER passenger aircraft, EK 2503 carried no passengers but about 34tonnes of bellyhold cargo that was urgently required in Kuwait.
It was the first time in the history of its operations that Emirates had operated a cargo only flight on a passenger aircraft.
Coming just four days after COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), EK 2503 would be the first of more than 27,800 cargo flights to be operated by Emirates Skycargo in the year that followed as the cargo carrier worked ceaselessly to keep communities across the world connected to the essential medical and food supplies they needed during the pandemic.
Nabil Sultan, Emirates divisional senior vice president, Cargo said: “It has been exactly one year since what was considered impossible in the air cargo industry became not just a reality but a strong operational pillar for Emirates Skycargo. Prior to the pandemic, nearly two thirds of our total cargo was transported in the bellyhold of our passenger flights.
“With increasing flight suspensions and restrictions on passenger travel imposed due to COVID-19 in early March 2020, we could foresee a situation where there would no longer be adequate cargo capacity available in the market to transport essential supplies.
“In order to bolster the cargo capacity offered by our 11 Boeing 777 freighters and make sure that we could meet the urgent demand for goods such as PPE, ventilators and other pharmaceutical goods and food supplies from across the world, we proactively made a radical and innovative plan to utilize our wide body passenger aircraft to operate cargo only flights.
“We trailed this passenger freighter concept with a flight to Kuwait on 16th March last year. Over the next few weeks, as regular passenger operations were completely suspended, we started increasing our passenger freighter flights to a point where we had close to 90 passenger aircraft being used for cargo operations.”
To meet the global demand for transport of PPE and essential supplies, Emirates Skycargo followed up on the introduction of passenger freighter services with further innovations including the loading of cargo on passenger seats and in overhead bins inside the passenger cabin and introducing ‘mini freighters’ which were Boeing 777300ER aircraft with seats removed from Economy Class to make more room for transporting cargo.