Go, Cargo, Go! Passenger jet conversions and custom cargo solutions carry the day

Collins Aerospace is finding new and creative ways to get everything from life-saving vaccines to everyday goods where they need to go.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental effect on individuals and businesses across the globe for more than a year now. But for aviation, there have been two sharp and opposite effects.

First was the drop in demand for passenger flights. Next came the unexpected surge in demand for cargo planes to ferry around personal protective equipment, home-office and school supplies, vaccines, and, yes, the many impulse and comfort purchases people have made to get through it all.

In response, Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies business, is helping customers navigate the new normal with a creative, two-pronged approach: equipping idle passenger planes to carry cargo, and providing key systems for traditional cargo planes to safely carry much-needed COVID-19 vaccines.

Quick-turn conversions

From pulling out passenger seats to installing cargo surveillance systems to offering new advanced composites technology for cargo doors, teams from across Collins Aerospace have been redefining cargo transportation to help customers respond to a changing marketplace.

“As we looked at the challenges brought about by COVID-19, our Interiors team jumped in to develop new passenger-to-freight capabilities as a way to help our customers keep their planes in the air,” said Trevor Skelly, general manager of Integration Engineering for Collins. “We can now give airlines the fleet flexibility they need to transport critical medical materials, goods and other cargo. And our colleagues across the company are finding other creative ways to help our customers meet new and unexpected challenges.”

Shipping much-needed supplies to remote areas is another matter. To that end, Collins Aerospace has nearly completed its first full freighter conversion on a De Havilland Canada DHC-8-300 (Dash 8) turboprop. Once the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) is issued, likely mid-year, Collins can offer serial full freighter conversions for this aircraft model.

Collins also offers a new quick-turn conversion option to reconfigure various passenger aircraft models for cargo use in as little as seven days. By removing seats on the main deck floor, aircraft have room for a substantially higher volume of goods.

And when it comes time for the planes to start carrying their most important cargo again – people – converting back to passenger jets will be easy and cost-effective.

Delivering on vaccine distribution

This new conversion capability supplements Collins’ Cargo Systems operations, which have been helping commercial aviation customers move massive amounts of freight for decades. Part of the company’s Mechanical Systems business, these specialists provide operators with the ability to quickly move cargo through the main and lower decks of their aircraft for fast and easy loading and unloading.

Supporting traditional cargo aircraft has become even more important in 2021. Apart from the sustained demand for all kinds of shipping, the worldwide COVID-19 vaccine rollout could require up to 8,000 widebody cargo flights over the next two years.

Collins has already been on the job for months.

In September 2020 – three months before the vaccine rollout began – the Cargo Systems team in Jamestown, North Dakota, started developing a formal support plan for operators to safely transport vaccines. Today, these specialists continue to research ever-changing travel and quarantine restrictions, deliver upgraded cargo loading systems to legacy platforms, provide technical and engineering assistance to operators, and increase spare and repair part provisioning to ensure customers can move vaccines where needed as quickly as possible.

“Our cargo systems have been transporting vaccines throughout the United States since December,” said Steve McQueen, technical services manager for Cargo Systems at Collins Aerospace. “We want aircraft operators to know we are fully dedicated to any and all support required to ensure critical medical supplies, therapeutics and vaccines can be distributed on time around the globe, just as we’ve been helping operators deliver non-emergency supplies and goods for decades.”