Guillaume Halleux, Chief Officer Cargo, Qatar Airways

The Leading Cargo Carrier Qatar Airways serves more than 60 freighter destinations with a fleet of two Boeing 747-8 and 24 Boeing 777 cargo planes. With such a strong personality, the airline didn’t let pandemic deter their spirit and its market share has increased from 6.8 pc pre-COVID to 8.6 pc by the end of 2020. On a positive note, Guillaume Halleux, Chief Officer Cargo, Qatar Airways, in an exclusive interview with Apace Digital Cargo, talks about recovery from Covid-19, further strategy for 2021, digital initiatives and the latest sustainability programme of the airline WeQare. 

To begin with, what is the strategy of Qatar Airways Cargo for the revival from Covid-19 situation and for 2021? 

We operated 180 cargo flights per day during the peak of the pandemic – these are aircraft with cargo-only operations. That compares with 60 (cargo-only) flights per day pre-COVID, so we tripled the number of operations. We made a conscious decision to continue flying our freighters and also introduced passenger freighters and mini freighters to complement our network and support our customers. Our teams demonstrated the tenacity, versatility and resilience required during such a time and even though most of us were working from home, we never failed to deliver and were swift to respond to customers. We have done the highest flying of any airline in the world, even launching new destinations during the pandemic and it has allowed us to maintain sufficient cargo capacity which was good for our customers as they could continue their activities. As a result, Qatar Airways Cargo’s market share in CTKs (published by IATA) increased from 6.8 pc pre-COVID to 8.6 pc by the end of 2020. We have not let the pandemic deter our spirit, in fact, Qatar Airways is actively rebuilding its passenger network which today stands at over 120 destinations (1500 weekly belly-hold flights) and we recently launched flights to Seattle. This is good news for cargo in terms of belly capacity as that is our business model. We also received three brand new Boeing 777 freighters that will help us support the high demand and meet our customers’ requirements. 

A number of digitalisation initiatives have been introduced, eBookings by WebCargo and premium membership to Validaide being few of them. 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. In December 2020, Qatar Airways Cargo was awarded IATA’s Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) certification in pharmaceutical logistics at its hub in Doha.  We are enhancing our products and solutions to be able to better support our customers. 

We introduced our sustainability programme WeQare and have launched two chapters One Million Kilos and Rewild the Planet.  There will be more chapters launched this year with a strong focus on sustainability. To lead the way for a more sustainable and socially responsible air cargo industry, and play an active role in building tomorrow’s world, sustainability will be our top priority. We will continue to remain focused on customer service and strong commercial preference in the coming years, being innovative and agile to support our customers business while also ensuring global trade continuity.  

Moving on, please share the presence of Qatar Airways Cargo in India? What are the expansion plans? What are your focus segments? How is your freighter fleet size?

India is an important air freight market for us with 133 flights each week to several destinations in India. Every week, we offer more than 3225 tonnes of cargo capacity each way.  We continue to assess the market for opportunities to provide India with additional services, eg: during the current pandemic, we not only continue with our freighter and belly-hold operations, but also introduced mini freighters and passenger freighters to and from many destinations in India.

We focus on all segments that add value to our commitment to the Indian market. This is mainly pharma (including the COVID-19 vaccine distribution across our network), high-tech, telecommunication, readymade garments, perishables (fruits and vegetables as well as seafood) and general cargo.

As India has the largest vaccine manufacturing capacity in the world, it will play a major role in the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the country and internationally. We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with UNICEF for a five-year period to support UNICEF’s Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative. Through this initiative, Qatar Airways Cargo will work closely with UNICEF and its freight forwarders across the world, including India to prioritise the transport of vaccines, medicines, medical devices and critical supplies utilising its extensive global network and capacity.

In addition to 26 freighters, we have access to a large belly-hold fleet, passenger freighters and mini freighters that will support our strategy of expanding our footprint in the Indian air freight market and supporting Indian imports and exports. 

You have mentioned a few digitalisation initiatives. So, how do you see the role of digitalization in the air cargo sector?  

The pressure and growth for digitalisation has never been stronger than during these times of the pandemic. It is set to bring a massive change to our industry and it is key on our agenda for this year, more so as it offers so many benefits. At the onset of the pandemic, when the world came to a halt, we had to quickly find ways to be innovative and agile. With the travel restrictions, we still continued discussions with our customers and stakeholders through Webex, Skype and other such platforms while working from home or office. 

At Qatar Airways Cargo, we introduced several digitalisation initiatives such as 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.  Through WebCargo bookings, forwarders in these countries will be able to conduct real-time eBookings, access live rates and see available capacity with us. Our membership with Validaide also aligns with our digitalisation strategy, offering customers the convenience of making informed decisions for their pharma shipments, at the click of a button. We are actively promoting digitalisation as we see the many benefits our customers will reap.

This crisis will require all the stakeholders to come together and work on solutions as digitalisation is a better and more efficient way of working, it kills borders, it kills currency issues and rate of exchange risks and it brings a number of benefits.

Also you mentioned about WeQare, the sustainability programme. Could you please throw some light on this?  

WeQare is a meaningful project. The idea came about when we became the number one cargo carrier. We wanted to give back to communities and leave a legacy for the future generation. WeQare puts sustainability issues at the heart of our activities through concrete actions designed by and for the air cargo industry and is built on four fundamental pillars of sustainability: economy, environment, society and culture. The programme is dynamic, few chapters have already been launched while few are under construction. When putting together the actions for each chapter, our primary question is how can we integrate sustainability into our everyday activities and leave a legacy for the future generation. This important question does not only affect us, it affects everyone. 

The COVID crisis accelerated the launch of this programme and we introduced Chapter 1 – One Million Kilos to transport one million kilos of aid and relief goods. We involved our customers by allowing them to allocate the space to charities of their choice. It was good marketing as well. 

Chapter 2 was launched on 1 February and is called Rewild the Planet where we are offering free transport to bring wild animals back to their natural habitat. Wild animals captured and taken from their natural habitat suffer a lifetime and their movement also affects the stability of our environment. Given our role as a leading air cargo carrier with an extensive network and our expertise in live animal transport, the thought of transporting wildlife back to their natural habitat came to mind. 

Our employees are the ones who enabled the transportation of 1 million kilos and they are the force behind the transport of wild animals for Chapter 2. Good deeds and noble initiatives always have a ripple effect and we are seeing that WeQare is already generating a lot of interest across our organisation and industry. The programme is designed to be capable of adapting to meet needs, address developments and target our priorities. WeQare will carry on indefinitely, so stay tuned for more chapters to be announced during this year. 

How Qatar Airways Cargo foresee the future of the air cargo industry in 2021? 

Air cargo is navigating strongly through the crisis and will be pivotal for global trade continuity in 2021 as well. We are looking to the future in terms of business as we are once again beginning to roll out our growth strategy, particularly in terms of our route and network expansion and enhancements to our solutions. No doubt, it will be a difficult year ahead.

If last year, it was about surviving and being agile; this year we will be learning and getting used to the new normal, adjusting our capacities and planning around the demand peaks.

Digitalisation is set to bring a massive change to the cargo industry that was lagging behind to embrace it. We are moving towards more systems that allow for dynamic pricing, automatic quotations, robotic integration and improved reporting and have introduced a number of initiatives.

COVID has quickened the pace of change of production to other countries in South East Asia. Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand. It has also accelerated the way people shop and changed the way we do business. As consumers and businesses are becoming more tech-savvy, the growth of online shopping and e-commerce has increased since the onset of the pandemic, so we are seeing a spike in ecommerce shipments which is set to rise this year too. 

We had a busy peak up to the Chinese New Year and have transported close to 5000 tonnes of flowers for Valentine’s Day and are now operating charters and flights for International Women’s Day. We are moving vaccine shipments and with the pandemic gaining momentum in many countries again, there is a demand for PPE transport again. There will be challenges in 2021 as countries try to curb the spread of the second or third wave of the virus while adapting to the new normal. 

We have been flying full flights for the last 12 months and for the next 12 also, we will be full. The world may limit travelling, but it has not stopped trading. There will be a lot of focus on sustainability this year and a number of chapters in our sustainability programme, WeQare will be announced.

The uncertainty has not faded, but 2020 has definitely made us resilient and stronger to deal with this year’s unique challenges.