Crippled by the drop off in passenger demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian regional carrier Jazz Aviation will convert De Havilland Dash 8-400s to carry packages instead of people.
Up to 13 turboprop aircraft will have their seats removed so they can be used to carry boxes loaded through the aircraft’s normal doors. Nets are attached where the seats would normally anchor to hold the cargo down.
The Jazz planes – operated on behalf of Air Canada – will be capable of carrying up to 8,100 kg (17,960 pounds) of cargo.
“We are delighted to be the first operator for the Dash 8-400 Simplified Package Freighter and congratulate De Havilland Canada and Transport Canada on offering this sound solution,” said Randolph deGooyer, President, Jazz Aviation LP. “This innovative opportunity will allow us to redeploy aircraft while contributing to the collective fight against COVID-19.”
Passenger volumes are down anywhere between 90 and 95% in Canada as people stay home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Airlines would normally fill the bellies of their planes with cargo, but they have responded to the crisis by cutting flights and putting staff on ‘off-duty’ status, meaning a shortage of cargo capacity in some areas.
Air Canada has responded by removing seats from three Boeing 777 aircraft to carry cargo in the passenger compartment. The move by Jazz will allow the airline to carry cargo into smaller airports not able to handle the twin-aisle Boeing.
The move also brings much-needed revenue to De Havilland, which shut down its production line in Toronto more than a month ago. It has continued to offer customer support during that time.
“We will work with Jazz to quickly put their Dash 8-400 Simplified Package Freighters into service and look forward to supplying this solution to other Dash 8-400 aircraft operators around the world to assist in the re-deployment of their fleets to meet the growing demand for airlift of essential supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Todd Young, Chief Operating Officer, De Havilland Canada.
Older Dash 8 aircraft have been converted to full-freighter operations, but they have been limited to older, smaller variants than the -400.
We’re proud to be able to help in the fight against COVID-19 by facilitating the supply chain. On Tuesday, a cargo shipment of 150,000 disposable isolation gowns arrived at #YWG to help keep frontline workers safe so they can continue to protect and service our community. pic.twitter.com/mLIlAbzwE6— Winnipeg Airport (@YWGairport) April 23, 2020
Jazz is owned by Halifax-based Chorus Aviation, and operates regional flights for Air Canada under a capacity purchase agreement.
The airline has about 5,000 staff across the country, 3,000 of whom were laid off as a result of the pandemic. Jazz recently signed on a federal wage subsidy to fund 75% of employees’ salaries, up to weekly maximums. The subsidy could be worth more than $40 million to Jazz by the time it expires June 6.
The cost of the conversion was not disclosed.