Delta launches U.S.-China cargo flights

Airbus A350. Source: Delta Air Lines

Airbus A350. Source: Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines is starting cargo flights between China and the United States to add capacity as demand for medical supplies in the U.S. increases.

Atlanta-based Delta announced in March it would operate cargo flights between Shanghai and Detroit three times a week with Airbus A350-900 jets that can carry 49 tons in its cargo hold.

On April 14, the airline said it would expand the cargo-only flights to daily service from Shanghai by adding flights to Los Angeles.

The flights will operate daily from Shanghai to either Detroit or Los Angeles, with a stop in Incheon.

The cargo will be transferred in Detroit and Los Angeles to domestic passenger flights, which also have belly cargo space.

"We know getting surgical masks, gloves, gowns and other protective equipment expeditiously to facilities across the country is imperative to protecting medical professionals and helping address the COVID-19 situation," said Delta Cargo vice president Shawn Cole in a written statement.

Delta hasn't operated regular cargo-only flights since 2009, when it had freighters from merger partner Northwest Airlines.

U.S. airlines halted passenger flights to China about two months ago, reducing air cargo between the two countries.

According to Cole, the Delta cargo flights add capacity for companies in China that restarted production and will get supplies to hospitals in the United States more quickly than ships. The airline said it will consider adding more flights, based on demand.

Delta also started on-demand cargo charters including Dublin-Atlanta and Los Angeles-Sydney flights.

Operating cargo flights allows Delta to make use of planes that were destined to be parked due to the sharp decline in passenger traffic.

The number of travelers passing through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints Sunday was down 92.8% from a year ago. Delta has parked unused planes along the fifth runway at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.