Qatar Airways Cargo: Taking it personally

The last time Air Cargo News spoke to Qatar Airways chief officer cargo Guillaume Halleux, the airfreight market was in a very different place to where it finds itself today.

Volumes were booming, rates were rising and the airlines’ biggest concern was whether they could find the capacity to meet the demand.

A year and a half later and volumes are trending downwards and rates are beginning to follow.

However, Halleux tells Air Cargo News that the change in outlook has not altered the company’s approach to the market, with network flexibility and a personal approach key to its strategy.

“I always tell my team to stay away from the noise pollution,” he says. “Don’t lose your focus on quality of service and your commercial presence, the rest is just noise. There is nothing you can do to change it. Nothing you can do to influence it.

“I tell my staff, if you look at how you differentiate your organisation compared with others, we all fly the same aircraft. That is not where you make your difference.

“Network – we fly to over 160 places and when you reach that sort of coverage you reach 95% of the cargo needs of the world. The same as the main players in the market. So network is not where you make your difference.

“Your schedule is also not where you make a difference. Cargo is a lot less schedule sensitive than passenger activity.

“There is only one way, it is the staff.  The old saying is that airfreight is a people business, and no one should forget that. Digital platforms are great, and they will help, but they will never replace the ease of doing business that you get from working directly with people.”

As well as approachability, flexibility and a lean decision-making structure are two other key assets for the airline, says Halleux.

He tells a story of a customer meeting in Ho Chi Minh City where they bemoaned the lack of airfreight capacity out of the Vietnamese city.

“One phone call to Doha and we added a freighter to the schedule in less than 10 days. Our decision processes are so quick, and I am keeping my focus on that because it is what makes us unique – the phone rings at 2am, the phone rings at the weekend, and we do pick up the call.”

On the current market, Halleux says there is no denying there has been a downturn, but he says there is no need to panic, after all, year-on-year comparisons are affected by 2018 being such a strong year for the industry.

He adds that Qatar Airways Cargo is not as affected as others in the industry and is still reporting double-digit volume growth – although he admits on some routes the carrier has noticed declines – because it is adding capacity as it tries to meet its ambition of becoming the world’s largest cargo airline.

The latest statistics from IATA shows that the carrier continues to close in on Emirates, which currently occupies the top spot (excluding express operators).

In mid-June, the airline continued to home in on this ambition, revealing an order for a further five Boeing 777Fs at the Paris Air Show.

The latest freighter deal builds on the airline’s B777F order book as the airplane has become the backbone of Qatar Airways freighter fleet.

It currently operates 23 freighters, including 16 B777Fs, five A330Fs and two B747-8Fs. It has a further five B777Fs on order, all of which are due to be delivered this year.

The carrier also added Singapore to its high demand transpacific freighter route this month.

In 2018, another big topic was the blockade imposed on Qatar by several of its neighbours.

Qatar Cargo initially saw volumes soar – up to 15 charter flights per day – as supplies suddenly needed to be flown into the country because they could no longer make a land crossing or be transhipped via Jebel Ali.

Although the blockade is still in place, the situation has settled down as shipping line networks have been adjusted to call directly at Doha Port.

“The blockade, from a cargo demand perspective, has no new impact, nothing more than a year ago.

“However from a cost perspective we still have to fly extra hours. If you look at the map, we are not able to fly over UAE and Saudi Arabia so that adds travel time and affects our costs”.

Looking to the rest of the year Halleux is hopeful: “We still believe there will be a peak season out of Asia.

“What shape or form it will take, we don’t know, but I don’t think it will be as strong as 2017.

“We see some forwarders starting to have the discussion with us on how much extra space they will need out of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou and this is normally the first sign of expectations of a peak.

“The difference is that a year ago those discussions started in February, it has been pushed back, but they are at least happening which means the industry is still expecting a peak season.”

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Damian Brett

Damian Brett
I have been writing about the freight and logistics industry since 2007 when I joined International Freighting Weekly to cover the shipping sector.After a stint in PR, I have gone on to work for Containerisation International and Lloyds List - where I was editor of container shipping - before joining Air Cargo News in 2015.Contact me on [email protected]