| Editor's note : this article was first published on the french version of Le Journal de l'Aviation on April 30
Despite its own difficulties, Airbus continues to mobilize for its customers. The European aircraft manufacturer now offers (free of charge for the duration of the covid-19 crisis) its own solution to A330 and A350 operators who wish to transform their passenger cabin to carry more freight. Wanting to be simple, safe and certified, the solution will be offered as a Service Bulletin (SB) and should be officially approved by the EASA in the coming weeks, but can be implemented more quickly with the approval of national authorities.
The Airbus solution was designed to respond to an emergency like the one experienced since March. This involves removing the seats from the cabins and installing pallets on the floor, attached to the seat tracks. Matthias Ierovante, project manager for this solution on the A330/A350 family, explains that the operation is very simple: it uses standard pallets used on the A320 family, easy to obtain and measuring 1.5 m x 1.5 m, therefore capable of being loaded by the passenger doors. They are fixed next to each other with standard cargo equipment, such as straps, and the packages, brought by hand thereafter, are covered with a net. There is therefore no major investment to be made in terms of equipment or specific kit.
The installation is also very simple and requires little time and manpower. At least two people are enough to carry the pallets and the work may take only two hours (excluding time for removing the seats). "This is not a big MRO project," says Matthias Ierovante, adding that the solution can be dismantled as quickly as it was installed.
Above all, Airbus wanted the solution to be impeccable in terms of safety. Yann Lardet, Vice-President Flight Operations Support at Airbus, explains that the precipitation of the start of the health crisis has sometimes prompted airlines to carry cargo on their seats "under questionable conditions", in bulk, which Airbus is looking for to avoid. The arrangement of "these pallets makes it possible to create corridors for a direct access to the freight carried: we are able to access all the packages and extinguish a fire that may start. We therefore bring the required level of fire safety. Another important point is the weight and balance control of the aircraft. As we deposit pallets at specific zones on the aircraft, we know exactly where the loads are transported so we have a perfect control over the balance."
Yann Lardet clarified that Airbus started from the principle where the airlines prefer to use the part of the cabin occupied by the economy class, removing business class seats representing a heavier project. Galleys will also stay in place. "But this is not a mixed passenger/cargo solution, just like it is not a freighter conversion."
As far as capacities are concerned, they depend on the decisions of each operator. But there remains a general principle: "what we are looking for is volume, not weight", according to Matthias Ierovante. Each pallet has a volume of just over 2.5 m3 and can support 260 kg. On an A350 in standard configuration, the solution can provide an additional volume of 81 m3 (thirty pallets) and a mass of 7.8 tonnes, which is added to what can be placed in the hold and in the luggage compartments, carrying the total capacity at 42.5 tonnes. On the A330, the additional volume can be 67 m3 (28 pallets) and the mass of 7.3 tonnes, bringing the cargo capacity to 37.5 tonnes.
Airbus indicates that it has received 140 expressions of interest and is already working with around 20 airlines to obtain authorization from their regulatory authorities to implement the solution. In the current context, EASA authorizes companies to use it for eight months with this national approval. In parallel, the aircraft manufacturer is working to obtain technical certification of the SB by EASA by the end of May, which will be valid for the long term.