A simple modification of the manufacturer’s weight specifications is allowing Finnair to carry 9 tons of extra cargo and passengers on A350 twin-aisle jets on key Asia routes forced to detour around Russia because of the Ukraine war.
Finland’s flag carrier said last month it had modified 10 of its 17 A350s to increase capacity on two of its longest international routes.
The carrier worked with Airbus to increase the maximum takeoff weight for aircraft that regularly serve Tokyo and Seoul, South Korea, from Helsinki. The modifications involved minor changes to the aircraft’s weight-and-balance software, placards and manuals.
Aircraft software compensates for changes in the center of gravity and maintains the same handling characteristics, so flying feels the same to the pilot.
It is common for airlines to change between allowable weight variants for an aircraft. Airbus currently lists more than 20 weight variants for the A350-900 in its aircraft manual.
Finnair previously flew over Siberia to serve Tokyo and Seoul, but it had to reroute flights after Russia closed its airspace to Western nations in retaliation for sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine. The new routes consume more fuel and can take up to four hours longer than before.
The lighter takeoff weight necessary to fly longer limited the number of customers and the amount of cargo each aircraft could carry.
The maximum takeoff weight of Finnair’s A350 fleet previously was 295 tons. Now, five of the aircraft are qualified to take off at 303 tons and five can operate at 308 tons. The shift in weight variation has increased total capacity on each plane by up to 8.8 tons, depending on the route and flight times.
The plane and fuel together make up most of the A350’s weight, with cargo representing about a third of the total weight.
Each aircraft’s new maximum takeoff weight is taken into account by experts at Finnair’s daily flight operations in their Helsinki hub, the airline said.
Finnair flies to Tokyo Haneda airport daily.
Airlines have taken creative steps to deal with operational challenges the past few years. When the pandemic halted most passenger flights, airlines quickly repurposed some aircraft for dedicated cargo service to take advantage of soaring demand and rates. Some airlines subsequently started all-cargo divisions to build on cargo opportunities.
Qatar Airways this month implemented a creative network adaptation to add an interim cargo connection in Asia. The Middle East carrier has restarted cargo service to Penang, Malaysia, with A330 jets carrying passengers to the resort city of Phuket, Thailand, which then operate in cargo-only mode to Penang and back, where they change back to passenger service for the return to the Doha hub. Qatar said network planners saw an opportunity to take advantage of ground time in Phuket on the four-times weekly service.
The service complements the existing seven weekly passenger flights to Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
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Air cargo helps Finnair restore some Asia service flying around Russia