I found this in the USITC website "In 2020, air freight experienced two different, but related impacts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The first, and most significant, impact was a sharp decrease in capacity to transport freight in the cargo holds of passenger aircraft (“belly cargo”) due to cancelled flights." https://www.usitc.gov/research_and_analysis/tradeshifts/2020/special_topic.html#:~:text=In%202020%2C%20air%20freight%20experienced,%E2%80%9D)%20due%20to%20cancelled%20flights.

What is the reason for this?

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    $\begingroup$ Think about it. If that was enough, then the incremental cost for passengers - a little more fuel, salary of flight attendants, would be far less than the incremental revenue for passengers and the airline industry would be a lot more profitable than it currently is. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21 at 1:58
  • $\begingroup$ Think about the cost of a human plane ticket vs sending a package. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21 at 4:30
  • $\begingroup$ Cargo airlines are profitable otherwise they simply wouldn't exist. But if you can use only half of the airplane (i.e. only the belly) then it might get ineffective. $\endgroup$
    – sophit
    Commented Jun 21 at 7:43
  • $\begingroup$ It depends. Profitability doesn't depend on the quantity of load (cargo/passengers) but on how much you get paid for that. COVID was also beginning of supply chain crisis, so sender where happy (sometime) to pay much more for quick delivery. Also consider many planes were grounded (so less supply), so it was an adjustment of demand and supply. Do no look only on one minor part. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21 at 9:30
  • $\begingroup$ It requires a complex business analysis that is actually not trivial at all, which is why i can't answer. You would need detailed cost and revenue data to calculate a break even point, which will vary widely by aircraft type, leg length, etc. There are a lot of variables to consider! Who do you need to convince, and what do you need to convince them of? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 21 at 18:05

1 Answer 1


In normal operations it is carefully balanced. Longhaul passenger planes normally carry some freight - and this adds up to quite a capacity. If these flights are cancelled - the freight capacity drops significantly. And the number of freighters is limited - so they can not take over all the drop in capacity. And yes, it is possible to fly the passenger planes with only cargo - but this is not nearly as cost efficient as both passenger+freight or freighters alone. In that time it has also been tried to "seat" freight in normal passenger-seats - but this is by far not as efficient as loading normal freight.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks a lot. I can image that flying only cargo is inefficient. However, inefficiency is more general than "profit-losing". Mu puzzle is that we know that cargo demand is very high during COVID. If flying an passenger aircraft with only cargo goods is profitable (but inefficient), why belly capacity dropped so much during COVID? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24 at 16:03

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