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Qatar Airways Cargo is investing in aircraft and technology to meet demand for its cargo solutions. Guillaume Halleux, Chief Officer Cargo, explains the progress to Keith Mwanalushi

The Qatar diplomatic crisis began when several countries abruptly cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar last year. These countries included Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, which imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar.


“It’s been over a year since the travel and trade ban, the initial months of the blockade did provide some early challenges,” Halleux admits. “We swiftly reacted to ensure minimum disruption to our schedule and services. Our main aim was to support and prioritise our customers and the business, including the massive airlift of food imports into the State of Qatar.” The cargo carrier then saw a surge in demand for air cargo capacity for perishable goods into Qatar from an average of 180 tonnes per day to 900 tonnes per day. Thankfully, two new facilities, the climate control centre and cargo overflow structure that opened last year provided close to an additional 10,000m² of temperature- controlled handling space.


“The investment in these facilities helped us accommodate the extra demand.” Halleux says the blockade has created a slight increase in demand for air freight in Doha as food imports are now being lifted by air and sea. “The services we lost to the blockade countries allowed us to introduce more capacity to Beirut, Tehran, Indian subcontinent and other Asian destinations. Given that 85% of our business is transit cargo, the impact was not acute.”


During the recent Farnborough Airshow, Qatar Airways (QR) stole the limelight displaying six of its most advanced aircraft, including the Airbus A350-1000 and the Boeing 777-300ER. Also on display was a 747-8 Freighter, which the airline says is a popular choice for charters, especially for oversized cargo. At the show, Qatar Airways finalised an order for five 777 Freighters. The deal, valued at $1.7 billion at current list prices, was announced as a commitment back in April.


The existing cargo fleet includes two Boeing 747-8, 13 Boeing 777 and eight Airbus A330 Freighters. “To support our rapid growth, our fleet size will be further increased when two new Boeing 777 Freighters join our fleet in the next few months, ahead of 2018’s peak season.”


Both freighters are part of an outstanding order with Boeing. The A330Fs however are heading out. Halleux indicates that the arrival of the two 777Fs this year is timely as three of the leased A330Fs will be returned in the first quarter of next year on completion of the lease period. “We are still evaluating the deployment of the remaining five Airbus freighters that we own,” he says.


The passenger fleet also comes into play when planning cargo operations as 50% of the cargo volumes are shifted in the bellies of passenger aircraft. “Belly capacity being planned daily in general, along with the high frequency count, is a key selling point especially for high yield products like express and pharmaceuticals. Our strategy of utilising both bellyhold space and freighters enables us to flexibly adjust to the cargo business requirements and it’s also the most ideal and cost efficient combination we can offer to customers.”


Recent additions to the passenger network include the launch of direct five-times weekly flights to Gothenburg, Sweden in December 2018 on 787-8s, and in May this year the carrier added double-daily services to London Gatwick making it the airline’s sixth UK gateway. The airline also added three additional weekly frequencies to Amman in Jordan. The additional flights bring weekly services to Amman to 12.


QR Cargo has been expanding its pharma network having launched its cargo product for pharmaceuticals in January 2014. Today, this covers 71 destinations globally under the pharma network, with Oslo being the recent addition. QR pioneered Pharma Express flights in 2015, to bridge the world’s major pharmaceutical trade lanes. “We successfully operate Airbus A330Fs on Basel–Doha, Mumbai–Ahmedabad–Doha and Hyderabad–Doha routes to uplift pharma from these hubs. These hubs are homes to many big name pharma manufacturers,” states Halleux.


New regulations in pharma transportation, growing demand for vaccines and biologic medicines and internationalisation of pharmaceutical trade are some of the factors driving demand for air freight, he says. “This, coupled with a highly competitive environment, drives the need for relentless innovation and for our processes and infrastructure to be constantly evolving for the safe and timely transportation of pharmaceuticals. This is what has enabled us to consistently deliver to our customer’s expectations.”


The company has made significant investment in technology such as the automated track-and-trace capability that improves efficiency and provides visibility over the course of a shipment. The feature is available on the website and via mobile app. >>


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