Gold in the hold
Its chief officer for cargo, Guillaume Halleux, tells us more about the airport facilities, fleet and route network that make Qatar Airways one of the world’s biggest cargo airlines.
How important is cargo to Qatar Airways?
The cargo division is a significant contributor to the airline’s revenue and overall business, and this has been growing each year. Our current global market, as of January 2021, is 8.95%, according to IATA. Based on cargo tonne kilometres (CTKs) growth (YTD Jan 2021), we are up by 18.3%, this is a great indication of our growth and support by customers.
How many tonnes of freight DO you handle annually and how much of this is carried by freighters?
Cargo handled each year is growing. For the calendar year 2020, our tonnage increased by 4% compared to 2019. In 2019, the split between belly-hold and freighter was 52% and 48%, but this changed during the pandemic in 2020, where cargo flown on freighters increased to 55% while belly-hold split was at 45%. In fact, during January 2021, 61% of Qatar Airways Cargo’s capacity was aboard dedicated freighters while 39% was on passenger aircraft. Quite a turnaround.
What are your top five cargo routes today in terms of volumes?
Our top five origin stations (freighter and belly-hold) in terms of tonnage for 2020 are Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Shanghai and Oslo. The top five destinations (freighter and belly-hold) are Doha, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London Heathrow and Chicago. Our top five routes in 2020 in terms of volumes are Hong Kong-Amsterdam, Hong Kong-London Heathrow, Amsterdam-Doha, Beirut-Doha and Hong Kong-Frankfurt.
Can you tell us more about your cargo facilities at Hamad International Airport?
On an average day this March, we had 140 to 150 cargo flights (freighters, mini freighters and passenger freighters) and utilised different types of airplanes such as the Boeing 747-8F, Boeing 777F, B777-300 mini freighters, passenger freighters and Airbus and Boeing passenger flights, all with varying capacities. Our entire cargo complex area at Hamad International Airport covers 292,000sqm where we have parking facilities capable of simultaneously accommodating 11 freighters. We have invested heavily in our state-of-the-art fully-automated hub at Hamad International Airport to support and facilitate the growth of cargo, with special processes and teams in place to handle all kinds of cargo, even the most time-sensitive shipments.
Our high-tech Cargo Warehouse Information System (CWIS) can pinpoint the location of every cargo item in the terminal with precise accuracy. We have invested in a fleet of refrigerated or reefer vehicles for the transportation of temperature-sensitive goods. We also offer the fastest global aircraft transfer times at Hamad through our Quick Ramp Transfer (QRT) service.
In addition to the 55,000sqm cargo terminal building that houses separate areas for different types of products, our 2,470sqm Climate Control Centre, a transit facility, handles about 285,000 tonnes of cool chain cargo, making it one of the largest airside pharmaceutical centres globally.
Our hub in Doha is IATA CEIV Pharma certified and our ground handling partner Qatar Aviation Services has also received the same certification for warehouse and pharma operations. We have a 4,200sqm air-conditioned live animal facility in Doha with special features such as dedicated holding areas for animals, stalls for horses, kennels for pets, 24/7 expert animal healthcare services, walking yard and much more. We also have the DeBoer facility which is a dedicated facility for the screening, handling and storage of transiting courier and mail cargo, with a built-up size of 6,700sqm and capacity to handle up to 256,000 tonnes annually.
We are currently handling 2.3 million tonnes of cargo with a number of workarounds at Hamad International Airport. This is higher than the actual cargo capacity that the airport was designed to handle, which is 1.4 million tonnes. To support the anticipated future growth, the Cargo Terminal 2 project is underway, which will boost the combined cargo capacity of both terminals to 4.6 million tonnes.
Future projects include roll out of IATA DG Auto Check, a digital solution that will allow us to automatically check the compliance of the shipper’s declaration for dangerous goods (DGD). We are also working on the development of a cargo bridging facility for import and export cargo in the State of Qatar.
How big is your cargo fleet and do you envisage this changing any time soon?
We have a fleet of 26 freighters – two B747-8 freighters and 24 B777Fs. We also transport cargo on passenger freighters and mini freighters. We have a strong belly-hold cargo fleet of more than 200 aircraft and, during the pandemic, the airline took delivery of five A350-1000 planes.
Our mix of modern fuel-efficient freighters and passenger planes helps us to develop a sustainable and adapted solution, to offer the right capacity in each market, where we can flexibly adjust to the needs of the cargo business and this is a very cost-effective combination.
Is the airline playing a major role in the shipment of medical supplies and vaccines across the globe?
Air cargo is the lifeline of trade and the pandemic has magnified its importance. It was air cargo that enabled global supply chains and maintained delivery of critical supplies, PPE and now vaccines. Time was a constraint but with it, there was an added pressure of less capacity that we had to deal with. Despite all hurdles, we have played a significant role throughout the pandemic and did the most flying, to support our customers business and the transport of critical supplies and PPE.
Working closely with governments and NGOs around the world, more than 250,000 tonnes of PPE, medical and aid supplies were transported on our flights to impacted regions. Above that, over 500 charters transporting essential aid, medical supplies, food, live animals, among other cargo were flown last year. Through Chapter 1 – One Million Kilos launched in June 2020, we went a step further and offered one million kilos of free cargo to our customers to support charities of their choice.
Vaccines aren’t a new product for our industry, but the quantity and scale of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination roll out is new and immense. Fortunately, we have invested much time and effort into creating a logistics plan for vaccines. We recently surpassed the 10 million milestone for COVID-19 vaccines, which included transporting COVID-19 vaccines for UNICEF as part of the five-year MoU to support the United Nations agency’s Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative.
I must say that our staff, including all cargo workers around the world deserve our praise, respect and a standing ovation. They have been exceptional and have gone out of their way, working tirelessly and long hours to support world trade. I am humbled and at the same time proud of what we have done, and will achieve, as a team.
How is Qatar Airways innovating?
Innovation up and down the line is key on our agenda, with a strong focus on utilising technology and data analytics to enhance the customer experience and business efficiency. We are moving towards more systems that allow for dynamic pricing, automated quotations, robotic integration and improved reporting.
We have already introduced Robotic Process Automation for shipment tracking, Salesforce (Service Cloud), IATA’s One Record Pilot project with Champ and eBookings via WebCargo by Freightos that is now live in six countries.
We are also premium members of Validaide Digital Platform. Validaide membership is an enhancement to our Pharma product where we are able to digitally manage and share our station capabilities for pharmaceuticals and healthcare products. This will help our customers make informed decisions and lane assessments to plan the most optimal routing for their time and temperature sensitive pharma shipments at the click of a button.
Great progress has been made on the e-AWB front. Currently, e-AWB penetration for Doha is at 99.8% and network is at 85% (Dec 2020).
Digitalisation is a better and more efficient way of working, it kills borders, it kills currency issues and rate of exchange risks, brings transparency and improves speed to market. Digitalisation was already a key foundation pillar in our Goal22 strategy. However, the pandemic has accelerated a number of digitalisation initiatives.