Qatar Airways Cargo is investing in aircraft and technology to meet demand for its cargo solutions. Guillaume Halleux, chief officer cargo explains the progress.
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 10,000 sqm 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 per cent 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 per cent 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.”
Additions to the passenger network
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.”
Investment in technology
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. Another major investment is the new Climate Control Centre at Hamad International Airport that opened last year.
This Good Distribution Practice (GDP) compliant airside transit facility for pharmaceuticals, enables the airline to process around 285,000 tonnes annually within a climate-controlled environment.
“We also make use of refrigerated trucks at our hub in Doha to ensure that the cool chain is seamless and that there are no temperature excursions.
“As part of our commitment to provide our customers with the best services, we are keen to participate in various industry initiatives and be part of the community to learn, collaborate, evolve and innovate. We continue to weigh options and will be undertaking industry recognised certification soon.”
QR Cargo’s pharma solution now includes CSafe’s newest RAP container. The RAP unit is perfectly suited for large volume pharma shipments and has been approved by the cargo carrier’s team of pharma specialists for use across its expanding pharma network.
“A seamless cool chain is paramount to maintain the efficacy of vital pharmaceuticals. By introducing CSafe’s new RAP container in our product offering, we take our commitment in maintaining high standards in handling pharmaceuticals a step further.
“The new active container is an ideal addition to our QR pharma solution, offering our clients unprecedented temperature reliability, product stability over longer distances and time span including large payload capacity.”
The CSafe RAP utilises innovative heating and compressor-driven cooling technologies together with advanced insulation to eliminate the payload risks associated with extreme ambient temperature conditions and long-duration shipments.
It is the only Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approved active compressor- driven container permitted in both the upper deck and lower deck cargo sections of commercial aircraft.
The CSafe RAP maintains constant payload temperatures even at extreme ambient temperatures from -30°C to +54°C.
The cargo carrier implements a complete quality audit and exacting training modules at each of its pharma stations, ensuring the high operating standards are met for handling pharmaceuticals and healthcare products.
Trained staff are on hand at every pharma destination to ensure the cool chain is unbroken.
The significant investments in the cool chain and expansion of its pharma network is part of the cargo carrier’s strategy and commitment to improve and enhance its product offering for the benefit of the pharmaceutical industry globally.
In May, Qatar Airways Cargo and Expo Freight Logistics (EFL) signed an agreement for weekly scheduled charter services, through its QR Charter Services, offering dedicated 777 Freighter capacity to EFL once every week from Dhaka to New York, transporting more than 100 tonnes of garments per flight.
The majority of apparel exports out of Dhaka on the freighters consist of sportswear, lingerie, loungewear, bridal wear, workwear, swimwear and children’s wear, and will be transported to New York to major retailers in the United States.
Bangladesh is the second largest exporter of ready made garments and it is the country’s largest source for export earnings. To provide a global market access to local exporters, QR Cargo operates seven weekly freighters from Dhaka to more than 150 destinations via Doha.
Halleux stresses that there are three crucial factors when considering a charter shipment: time frame, routing and the type of cargo. “The requirement for speed is the ultimate driver in most cases, ensuring that goods are delivered directly and on time to the relevant markets and this is where we fit into the business. Our freighter and charter team are able to provide detailed route analysis and load planning for all our charter customers worldwide.”
Through the QR Charter product, the airline offers global solutions for full, part and combination charters utilising the fleet of freighters.
Charter solutions are customisable for a variety of products and industries such as oil and gas, high-tech goods, electronics, pharmaceuticals, perishable and life science, mining, automotive, aid and relief, events, live animals, and any urgent and time-bound shipments among others.
Given the high demand for charter services, Halleux and his team are always looking for creative solutions not only through fleet optimisation but also offering fully integrated solutions within the network of more than 150 passenger and over 60 freighter destinations, which has resulted in 25 per cent YOY growth of the charter product.
“Our great relationships with leading regulators are an added advantage, enabling us to deliver cargo via charter service to most of the airports in the world,” he adds.
Although Asia, Europe and the Americas are the main charter markets, QR Cargo is also expanding its charter market share in other regions.
“The addition of two 747-8 nose loader freighters last year gives us the added flexibility to offer customised and cost-effective solutions for industrial freight. We have also started offering ACMI lease options to different customers. Two new Boeing 777 freighters will join our fleet this year, providing us more capacity to expand our charter services to newer markets.”
As it stands, things are looking up at the airline’s cargo division.