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Combi aircraft in commercial aviation is an aircraft that can be used to carry either passengers, as an airliner, or cargo as a freighter, and may have a partition in the aircraft cabin to allow both uses at the same time in a mixed passenger/freight combination. Combi aircraft typically feature an oversized cargo door, as well as tracks on the cabin floor to allow the seats to be added or removed quickly. Typically, configured for both passenger and cargo duty, the passenger compartment is pressurized to a higher pressure, to prevent fumes from cargo entering the passenger area.
One U.S. air carrier that flew propeller-driven combi aircraft was Northwest Airlines. In 1963, Northwest was operating a domestic and international routing with a Douglas DC-7C four engine propeller aircraft between New York Idlewild Airport (which would subsequently be renamed JFK Airport) and Tokyo that was configured to transport a mixed passenger/cargo load. The round trip routing for this flight which was operated once a week was New York-Chicago-Seattle-Anchorage-Tokyo. The DC-7C was configured with all economy seating in the passenger cabin.
Another U.S. airline that operated combi aircraft was Braniff International. In 1968, Braniff was flying Boeing 727-100QC ("Quick Change") jetliners in a configuration that facilitated the transportation of palletized freight containers as well as 51 passengers in an all economy class cabin in scheduled airline operations. According to a Braniff system timetable dated July 1, 1968, the airline was operating weekday "red eye flights" with round trip services at night with its B727 combi aircraft on the following routings: New York (JFK)-Washington, D.C. (IAD)-Nashville-Memphis-Dallas, Seattle-Portland-Dallas, and Denver-Dallas. The freight pallets were loaded in the front section of the aircraft by forklift via a large cargo door located on the side of the fuselage aft of the flight deck while passengers boarded and deplaned via the integral air stairs located at the rear underneath the trijet's engines. These aircraft could also be quickly changed to fly either all cargo or all passenger operations and Braniff flew the B727QC in both configurations besides operating in a mixed passenger/freight combi mode.
Air Marshall Islands was a somewhat exotic combi aircraft operator flying a Douglas DC-8-62CF jetliner in mixed passenger/freight operations. According to the Official Airline Guide (OAG), Air Marshall Islands was operating a DC-8 combi on scheduled services linking Honolulu with the Pacific islands of Kwajalein and Majuro during the early 1990s. Air Marshall Islands is still currently in existence flying regional turboprops but no longer operates combi jet aircraft.
Nowadays, many airlines have converted their combis into full passenger service or full freighter service for the potential of more profitable operations. Only a few major airlines, such as KLM and Air China, still operate combi configured jetliners, primarily being Boeing 747 aircraft, although Alaska Airlines currently operates converted Boeing 737-400 combis that were previously flown in full passenger configuration. These 737-400 aircraft replaced Boeing 737-200 combis that were formerly operated by Alaska Airlines. There were several other combi aircraft operators as well in Alaska in the past including MarkAir with Boeing 737-200s, Reeve Aleutian Airways with Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprops and Wien Air Alaska with Boeing 737-200s and Fairchild F-27B turboprops. Wien was the launch customer for the combi version of the B737-200. A number of airlines in Canada also flew combi aircraft including First Air with Boeing 727-100 and 727-200 aircraft. First Air continues to operate combi aircraft at the present time including the Boeing 737-200 and 737-400 as well as the ATR-72 turboprop. Other combi operators in Canada in the past included CP Air and Pacific Western with both airlines flying Boeing 727-100 and Boeing 737-200 combi aircraft.
In 2008 Aviation Traders designed a Boeing 757-200 combi aircraft for the rock band Iron Maiden. The front of the aircraft was configured for passengers, with the rear holding six tonnes of cargo (Iron Maiden's equipment for their tour).
Notable combi passenger aircraft
- Boeing 727-100
- Boeing 727-200
- Boeing 737-200
- Boeing 737-400
- Boeing 737-700
- Boeing 757-200
- Boeing 747-200
- Boeing 747-400
- Douglas DC-7C
- Douglas DC-8
- Fairchild F-27B
- Lockheed L-188 Electra
- http://www.timetableimages.com; Northwest Airlines March 1, 1963 system timetable, pages 8 & 14
- http://www.timetableimages.com, Braniff International July 1, 1968 system timetable, page 30
- Official Airline Guide, October 1993 edition, flight schedules for Kwajalein (KWA) and Majuro (MAJ)