back to article PC makers warn of battle for air freight capacity, will have to fight for cargo space with... the COVID-19 vaccine

PC makers will be forced to compete for air freight space toward the end of this year as vaccines for COVID-19 are distributed around the world, both Dell and HP have warned. The virus severely disrupted the computer supply chain, as lockdowns forced businesses to kit out their staff with new computers to work from home, and …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Excuses, excuses

    "The cost of air freight has been rising all year because, quite obviously, there have been very few planes in the sky."

    If there are fewer planes flying to carry passengers then taking the seats out provides more planes to carry freight. Or have the passengers been subsidising the freight?

    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: Excuses, excuses

      Who is going to remove these seats during lockdown? How much will that cost? How long will it take to put them back one air travel becomes a thing again? Would the cost of refitting twice be offset by the income from freight or would it make more economic sense for the airline to just not bother?

      It's not as simple as "these planes don't have passengers so they can carry parcels instead."

      1. Dave Rickmers

        Re: Excuses, excuses

        Airliner seats are easily removed and replaced with simple hand tools. There are heavy duty channels on the cabin floor. The seats have matching clamps.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Excuses, excuses

          Yes, but hand tools require hands to operate - it still takes a significant amount of time to remove several hundred seats from an aircraft, even more if the seats have IFE screens and hardware embedded into them.

          The seats then have to be offloaded and moved into storage, which also needs people to do, thus costing money.

          Then after doing all this, you have space on an aircraft that is not accessible to containers, so any cargo going into this space has to be manually unpacked from the containers, placed into the cabin via the passenger doors, then secured by hand, all in a way that won't cause any weight distribution issues. At the other end you then need to unload it all in the same way.

          The issue this all creates is that from a financial perspective, it's not as simple as "convert the planes to carry cargo", as the cost of moving cargo in the cabin of a converted aircraft is very different to that of cargo moved in the hold on a per-container basis.

          Once this is all over, you then also have the cost and effort associated with refitting the aircraft, and if you have IFE ensuring that it all works properly again and that the hardware was not damaged during removal, transport, storage, transport and reinstallation.

          1. RPF

            Re: Excuses, excuses

            Passenger planes also need regulatory approval to carry freight in the cabin.

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: Excuses, excuses

              I imagine cryogenic containers, even more so.

      2. philstubbington

        Re: Excuses, excuses

        Airlines have already been removing seats to carry more cargo (preighter rather than freighter).

    2. Persona Silver badge

      Re: Excuses, excuses

      Passengers do sort of subsidise the freight as they are the items transported with the highest cost to weight (and volume) ratio. Without the relatively high "shipping" charges paid by passengers you need to charge a lot more for freight to make the overall flight profitable.

      1. philstubbington

        Re: Excuses, excuses

        Exactly - especially the “sort of” as nothing is quite that simple, as you probably know already.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Excuses, excuses

      The issue isn't really to do with seats, but with the number of planes actually flying.

      Given the number of planes and flights is down, and that planes are standing idle, along with their crews. It is a really only a matter of resuming flights...

      Longer-term we can worry about removing seats, short-term with no passengers, the entire hold is available for freight as is the seating areas. Yes, there is a small issue of cost recovery ie. making it commercially viable without the passengers, but thats a problem for the accountants.

      Interestingly, I suspect because most of th computers are coming from China, whereas the vaccines aren't, there will actually be plenty of freight capacity on Chinese operated aircraft - does Huawei operate an airline?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Excuses, excuses

        "does Huawei operate an airline?"

        You couldn't carry computers in a Huawei airline. They might be infected with back doors in transit and constitute a massive security risk the moment they were unloaded.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Excuses, excuses

      Taking the seats out doesn't transform a passenger plane into a cargo plane. Look at a standard aviation pallet. Those don't fit through a passenger door.

      There are some efforts to use passenger space for small cargo. The one I just saw today uses FAA approved pouches secured to the seats along with smaller boxes in overhead bins. I suspect both are pretty labor intensive compared to palletized cargo.

      I doubt it's a matter of passenger service subsidizing cargo service. Overly simplifed: in the before times, the top half of the plane was filled with people and the bottom half with cargo. Take away the top half's revenue and you're no longer profitable.

    5. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Excuses, excuses

      Still more money from passengers. But most of the vaccines have localised production and distribution strategies, so this is probably just more FUD.

      I recently got some LED bulbs from China via air freight and there was certainly no premium for those.

    6. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Excuses, excuses

      Oh dear. Oh dear! If only it was that easy, smartypants.

      a) Taking seats out does not change a passenger plane into a freighter. It does for things like PPE that are light but fit through passenger doors. Freight (as in proper freight) is carried either on pallets or in containers, both of which, surprise surprise, do not fit through the standard passenger door!

      b) Freight has not been subsidised by passengers, but around 50% of all air cargo is carried on passenger flights. Why? Because as much as passengers carry up to 84 kilograms of luggage (hold and carry-on) with them, there's still half the plane to spare.

      A sum: A Boeing 777 can carry 102 tons of freight and has capacity for a *minimum* of 300 passengers. 300 passengers + 10 crew at 100kg each + 20 kg of hand luggage + 64 kg of hold luggage works out to around 57 tons. That leaves you with another planeful of freight capacity lost to... dead air. So, load 'er up with another 45 tons of *stuff*, and score bigly!

      c) Cargo planes have reinforced floors of the main cabin/loading space. Passengers don't weigh all that much. Freight does have a lot more mass, it needs to be tied down to something that can hold on to shifting cargo (well, cargo shouldn't *shift*).

      There are airlines who have dedicated cargo arms (Lufthansa, Emirates, Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Eva Air just so mention some well-known ones), and there are dedicated cargo airlines (Kalitta, Cargolux, AirBridgeCargo, Antonov Airlines...). Their planes have been busy nonetheless, but the thing is that *passenger* airlines fly where freight needs to go too, so that kind of point-to-point capacity has... evaporated.

      So no, it's not just a case of "remove all the seats and bung a bunch of stuff in the main cabin". There's *a lot* of hard work to make that happen.

    7. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Excuses, excuses

      No need to mess about with seats. If passengers mass on average 70-80kg and have 20kg baggage allowance, and a plane normally carrying 250 passengers is carrying 50, you have up to 20 tons extra for freight as long as there is enough volume in the hold. I would guess there would be since electronics, even with packing, should be denser than passenger luggage which is mostly clothes

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Excuses, excuses

      It’s always been a mix - it’s profitable when you have a full plane of passengers and cargo.

  2. TVU Silver badge

    "PC makers warn of battle for air freight capacity"

    I hear that there are plenty of unwanted and unloved 737 Max planes waiting around and looking for something to do.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      planes waiting around and looking for something to do

      The RAF has a Voyager aircraft that with a £1 million bill for a paint scheme totally unsuited for use in active service - BlairBoris Force One white elephant may be available for hire at cheap rates

    2. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      I was thinking more of all those 747's

      that were retired early.

      Those can carry an awful lof of cargo if you rip out the seats on the lower deck. There are trolleys in existence that can go through the messenger doors with pre-loaded freight especially the smallish packages that PC's and the like come in.

      A bit of lateral thinking by the logistics people could solve this easily.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: I was thinking more of all those 747's

        > A bit of lateral thinking by the logistics people could solve this easily.

        Easy. Instead of shipping the vaccine to the people, simply ship the people to the vaccine. And planes are already designed to carry people. Simples.

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: I was thinking more of all those 747's

          How about a World Beating British 3D Printed Vaccine? There must be a drinking buddy of the PM or the Health Secretary who can source 3D Printers at short notice for a billion or two £££

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: I was thinking more of all those 747's

            Coincidently, one of Boris' old school chums just happened to set up a 3D virus printing business last week!

  3. Dwarf

    Because ... $reasons

    Anybody else notice that there is always the chance to increase price due to $reasons, but the same logic never applies in the other direction, that one just ends up as $profit.

    I'm sure that there are lots of dedicated cargo planes out there and that with people ordering more on-line, then there must still be the same demand to keep those moving goods around.

    Did they also forget that container ships and lorries are also very good at moving things around the world ?

    1. Persona Silver badge

      Re: Because ... $reasons

      Price and demand are interlinked. If more capacity is needed the higher prices will make it cost effective to fly cargo in the holds of passenger jets without any passengers. If demand for air freight is reduced prices will go down so only the most efficient carriers (dedicated cargo planes) will still be in the game.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Because ... $reasons

      A quick look at FlightRadar shows just how many freighters are in air every night in spite of COVID.

      It’s not just the dhl and fedex flights but lots of unknown airlines with 747s, 777s and 737s.

      As I write this there are 8+ freighters over the uk; cargoluxe, west Atlantic, dhl, fedex, ups, cargo jet and more.

    3. Clunking Fist

      Re: Because ... $reasons

      "always the chance to increase price due to $reasons, but the same logic never applies in the other direction"

      Seriously? Have you not seen how much (i.e. little) an i7 16GB touch screen laptop can be purchased for these days? With a usb -3 or -C dock, what more does one need for the next 6 years...

  4. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid

    Sure, it's difficult to manage a supply chain and suppliers are having to try extra hard right now. But once the vaccines start rolling, I hope this changes from "will have to fight for cargo space with... the COVID-19 vaccine" to "will have to give up cargo space to... the COVID-19 vaccine".

    If there's a fight, I'd rather vaccine distribution wins over consumer electronics.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      The item with the highest profit margin wins...

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Big Brother

        I think the government will requisition cargo space for vaccines if necessary.

        Even if you only care about the economy, and are completely unconcerned about the number of people who die; getting the vaccine out as quickly as possible is still a good idea.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Sure, I'm just saying that stupidity, greed, and the willingness to ignore possible consequences are major corporate traits.

          (Probably due to the fact that crowds are more stupid than their stupidest member.)

  5. Lon24

    Global v Local

    The article is on the worldwide situation which is not encouraging for suppliers or buyers.

    Things could become even more challenging in the UK particularly for the price-sensitive 80% or so that arrives by sea. Already Felixstowe (which handles 40% of the UK container imports) is in trouble with its quays blocked by PPE & medical supply containers waiting for somewhere to go. Some incoming ships are being diverted via continental ports such as Rotterdam for imports to complete the final crossing by continental ferry. Many major techno companies supply the UK via warehouse hubs in the EU. Hence after January 1st it could be a problem getting them into the UK. As 'non-essential' they are going to be at the back of any queue involving food or medical supplies.

    So when you get it and even how much you pay for it (who knows what tariffs may or may not apply?) makes planning a tad difficult at this time.

  6. Observer!

    Seafreight takes 3 weeks

    You can put 8000 laptops in a 40 ft container @ a cost of $5K or 60 cents ea.

    The world needs more problem solvers

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "The world needs more problem solvers"

      And what we get is more MBAs.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      >You can put 8000 laptops in a 40 ft container

      You could, but then most people would allow for some packaging...

      Lenovo are currently shipping 15.6" laptops in a padded box with external dimensions 48.4x8.0x32.7cm. According to Calculator for Shipping you can theoretically fit 5,255 of these laptops. I suspect the actual number to be lower still as I expect the laptops to be on pallets and then containerized.

      1. HellDeskJockey

        The time factor

        If you are loading up the ship today for shipment. You should expect your package mid to late Jamuary.

        After years of dealing with sea shipments the way I have always explained it to customers is that we use old Viking Longships. When they are not doing movies they are moving your packages.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: The time factor

          >I have always explained it to customers is that we use old Viking Longships.

          Might in the future be using modern longships...

          The futuristic cargo ship made of wood

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      > Seafreight takes 3 weeks You can put 8000 laptops in a 40 ft container @ a cost of $5K or 60 cents ea

      That delay of three weeks is not without financial cost, be it the delay between purchasing parts and selling units, trend of components falling in price over time, or the risk of a competitor bringing a more attractive model to market. Sometimes you have the option of starting manufacturer earlier in order to meet a period of heightened demand, but perhaps you don't because components aren't available at the price you need.

      The point, it's not one problem but a zoo of problems.

  7. quartzz

    I'm quite impressed that a 5 inch by 5 inch parcel with 2 sticks of ram, along with 5,000 other same parcels, can find their way from China to this address at the best of times. here's hoping..

  8. MarkET

    Fright or freight

    Most airline handling companies wouldn't cope with -70c storage +/- 5c during transit. Imagine the carousel...

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Fright or freight

      The big problem with -70C shipping is that it uses dry ice, and you really don't want cargo aircraft filling up with CO₂ in gaseous form. It's hard to leave a vent open at 30,000ft.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fright or freight

        But it's about -60 degrees outside anyway?

  9. storner


    Could someone hit them - hard - with a suitable cluebat? That airfreight capacity is needed for battling a *pandemic* FFS, so get out of that plane RIGHT NOW! In fact, if they had any decency they would sponsor the cost of flying the vaccine into a couple of 3rd world countries.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Put Chris Grayling in charge

    I bet he can find a company willing to take a few £million to sort something. Does Airborne Freight (UK) Ltd. exist?

  11. Blackjack Silver badge

    Time to think on getting a desktop PC for home

    Lookdown won't any any time soon and Desktops are way easier to upgrade and have more powerful hardware, more storage space and most important, they are a tad more durable.

    People who really needs a laptop... well... sorry for you.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Time to think on getting a desktop PC for home

      And laptops have built-in UPS and travel more easily to the shed and back. But for sure, horses for courses, as always. One for the gamers, one for the tinkerers.

      However, as for desktops having greater and cheaper storage... yes. However keeping data redudantly stored suggests that the bulk of your storage should not be in one single place, be it your desktop or laptop. Being stuck at home means that such networked storage will be accessible to a laptop of modest internal storage capacity conveniently enough for many tasks.

      1. Blackjack Silver badge

        Re: Time to think on getting a desktop PC for home

        Networked storage is only good if you have fast Internet that's reliable. And as seen with recent events, you depend on the place you store your data not going down.

        Always have at least one offline backup of your data or you will regret it.

        I am the only one that remembers The Chocolate Factory suddenly deciding to delete people files? The Windows update that deleted your files? Name the online service going out for several hours? The last one is somewhat recent.

  12. Potemkine! Silver badge

    The reports of PC death are greatly exaggerated

    Aren't they?

  13. simonb_london

    Wow, I had no idea this vaccine was so popular!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hugely: Factories are already producing millions of counterfeit doses to be sold through email campaigns, shady websites, and gullible brick & mortar drugstores.

  14. David Roberts

    Fly more planes?

    There are a lot parked up at the moment.

  15. werdsmith Silver badge

    The RAF A400M aircraft fetched the PPE, so they could fetch these cryogenic packages.

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