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U.S. airlines prepare plans to virtually shut down domestic service amid outbreak : Coronavirus

This will cause massive issues for cargo as well. Cargo operators use commercial airlines to reposition crews.

  1. What exactly does 'reposition' mean here?

  2. Why do cargo airlines need passenger ones to 'reposition' crew?

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  • $\begingroup$ Because trains are too slow. $\endgroup$ – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 24 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ How would you expect the crew to get to the plane? $\endgroup$ – Aganju Mar 24 at 15:16
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Reposition is just what it sounds like, to move a crew from one place to another, generally the move occurs in a plane other than the one they are slated to fly.

Both cargo and passenger airlines reposition crews all the time for various reasons. Some but not all reasons are:

  • Crews are not always required to live in the place they are based. Some crew members may chose to live elsewhere and can generally fly their carrier for free to get to their starting point of the day. Cargo airlines may have deals with passenger airlines to allow this flexibility for their crews as well.

  • A crew trained on a given airframe may be needed to fly a different plane than the one they just operated.

  • Commercial crews have duty time limits and at the end of a "shift" they may need to get home if the cargo airline does not keep them wherever they are. On the same note a crew may be needed elsewhere to start a flight.

A cargo airline may not fly as many back-and-fourth routes as a passenger airline so they may utilize airline flights to fill the movement needs of their crew. It is worth mentioning that some cargo aircraft do have limited seating that can be used to re-position a crew.

This cargo pilot describes it quite nicely in her blog:

Or you expect to operate a flight, but it is changed to a positioning flight. A positioning flight is a flight you do for the company as a passenger, to get you to a certain destination from where you will operate, either straight away or after a layover, or sometimes you position after a duty. Positioning flights can be with the company, or booked with another airline. You might anticipate returning home on Tuesday, but when your block of working days finishes Friday, big chance you will get some more flights and will not return earlier than Friday. Due to these roster changes, you also might end up in a completely different part of the world. So in my suitcase I pack all kind of electric adapters, and even if I go to a subtropical destination, I still pack jeans and a jacket. I learned this the hard way by ending up in Alaska, while having packed for my trip to high summer Colombo.


Note: If commercial planes stop flying a fair bit of cargo stops moving any way.

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To "reposition" is to move from one place to another, but not as a revenue activity. For aircraft, this is sometimes referred to as "ferry". For crews, this is either "deadheading" (flying in a passenger seat) or "jumpseating" (flying in the cockpit jumpseat).

Flight crews live all over the world. Some have to "commute" to get to the airports where they're based, and crews (especially ones on reserve) often get assigned to operate trips that don't start/end at their base anyway. Airlines naturally prefer to move crews on their own flights, and will even bump paying passengers to do so if needed, but there is a web of agreements letting them use each others' flights as well if space permits.

Cargo airlines have pretty limited schedules, often operating only overnight, so to get their crews to/from their planes in a more reasonable timeframe, they may reposition on passenger airlines. OTOH, a passenger crew might use a freight flight to reposition overnight to avoid an overnight in a hotel before the first passenger flight of the day or after the last.

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