Qatar Airways has brought its cargo operations to the fore with both a fleet expansion and state-of-the-art handling facility, explains John Batten, senior vice president for cargo at Qatar Airways.
How has Qatar Airways Cargo benefited from the Middle East's aviation boom?
The 2007/8 financial year has generally been excellent, with improved results throughout the cargo business in terms of growth, yield and throughput. This is due to the addition of new aircraft and changes in the way we conduct business, for example, by offering a substantial number of new products.
Which aircraft have been purchased as part of this cargo fleet expansion?
We recently purchased an additional aircraft, which brings our total operational fleet to three Airbus A300-600 freighters. Two of these aircraft are passenger conversions, mainly because we experienced a lack of availability for pure freighters at the time.
The remaining Airbus A300-600 aircraft operating in passenger configuration are being retired and returned to the lessor during 2008. In addition, Qatar Airways Cargo has ordered factory built Boeing B777F aircraft, which will start being delivered in 2009.
How will the new aircraft be utilised by Qatar Airways Cargo?
The fleet expansion means we can extend our reach and the number of markets we serve. In basic terms, we can either increase our cargo capacity on existing routes or start operating new routes.
For example, we have been servicing Houston in the United States through the relatively new Washington route - however, we commence a direct service to Houston from November.
How do you complement your pure freighter operations with belly-hold capacity on passenger aircraft?
To be honest, it's the freighters that are actually complementing the passenger belly capacity by bringing loads to and from Doha that cannot be handled by the passenger operations. In many respects, I believe it's the belly capacity that is driving our business today.
What advantage does Qatar offer as a cargo hub to Qatar Airways Cargo? What plans are there to develop it?
As a carrier, the bulk of our material travels through Doha to reach its destination. As a result, the hub has to be operationally sound and responsive.
Our Doha facility is very efficient and our 'Flown As Booked' (FAB) through the hub is between 94-95% and climbing, which is a tremendous result and one of which we are extremely proud.
The airport has invested very heavily in cargo infrastructure since late 2006, a fact that is born out by the new cargo terminal in which we are based.
What specific benefits does the new facility provide?
The new facility includes a semi automated storage and staging area, in addition to a purpose-built animal centre, which will be supported by a specially constructed pet transporter later this year.
We are also planning to become the first Middle East carrier to be certified by the Transported Asset Protection Association (TAPA).
Furthermore, the new Doha International Airport (NDIA) will help expand our cargo footprint and allow us to capitalise on our new products and improved facilities. These factors will all help assist the additional growth that Qatar Airways Cargo is anticipating through increased numbers of aircraft.
How will you compete with rivals such as Etihad Crystal Cargo and Emirates SkyCargo in the short term?
Freight traffic is in the midst of a robust period of growth all over the world and we don't really view competition with other airlines as being an issue.
Qatar Airways Cargo prides itself on its service and the quality that allows us to constantly gain repeat business and grow accordingly. For example, the direct Houston flight will mean that time to market will improve on the route and so will our share of the business.
The cargo industry is more about quality, speed and reliability these days than ever before, and Qatar Airways Cargo, with its high standards of service, stands to make extremely strong gains.