November 15, 2017: The state-owned Qatar Airways has been bullish on expanding both the passenger and cargo network in 2017 and has a strong plan for widening its network through 2018. By the end of this year, the number of freighter fleet will touch 23 aircraft. The increase in cargo volume is forcing the airlines for capacity addition. Alongside, there is a concentrated effort in improving ground handling to enhance competency. The speed of operations, efficiency and accuracy, are very essential in ground handling operations to minimise aircraft turnaround time and handling costs says Guillaume Halleux, senior vice president, and acting chief officer, Cargo at Qatar Airways in an exclusive interview with Renjini Liza Varghese.

Qatar Airways has been in an aggressive expansion mode both in terms of acquiring latest aircraft and adding new routes to its map. What are the plans in the pipeline?
In September this year, we received our first nose-loader Boeing 747-8F and thirteenth Boeing 777 freighter to meet growing air cargo demand and to prepare for expansion. Our second Boeing 747-8F will join the fleet by the end of this year, increasing our freighter fleet to 23 aircraft.

We introduced twice-weekly Boeing 777 freighter services to Pittsburgh recently, the second largest city in Pennsylvania, supporting the region’s growing economy. Pittsburgh is our seventh freighter destination in 2017, with four of these being added in the Americas during 2017. Complementing our daily wide-body Airbus A350 passenger flights to Philadelphia, the introduction of freighters to Pittsburgh injects an additional 200 tonnes of weekly capacity, providing businesses in the city and the state with direct air freight uplift to the cargo carrier’s global network of over 150 destinations.

The airline will be launching belly cargo flights to Adana in Turkey, Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, St. Petersburg in Russia, Canberra in Australia and Chiang Mai in Thailand this year. Qatar Airways has doubled its frequencies to a number of destinations in Eastern Europe and the Nordics, Prague, Warsaw and Helsinki, thereby offering more belly cargo to and from these destinations. Significant belly capacity is also being added to multiple destinations in Africa, Americas, Asia and Europe due to high demand. Along with a young fleet and innovative products and services, our extensive and varied network provides customers with a global reach for their cargo.

Ground handling always throws new challenges with changing cargo. What are the three main problems that need attention?
Qatar Airways Cargo emphasises achieving consistency in safety, security, quality and operational delivery throughout its freight handling network. We set high standards for these disciplines, and the capabilities of the ground handling agents are rigorously assessed with each new route launch or expiry of handling contracts at existing stations. Our Network Handling Partner program enables us to have an established framework with the global handling companies to ensure our specific requirements are met, irrespective of location. However, there are unique challenges related to the interface of the various cargo handlers’ booking systems and ability to interact with each other and transfer data between them. Another constant challenge is accommodating the constantly evolving EU and US security requirements.

The volume of perishables especially flower, fruits and meat/fish are on the rise. Elaborate on the challenges pertaining to perishable handling.
At Qatar Airways Cargo, we offer our customers QR Fresh solution for air freight of all kinds of perishables. Since we launched the product in 2014, the tonnage of perishables handled by our airline has spiralled upward by 17 percent in 2016-17 as compared to 2015-16.

With temperature-controlled storage between 2°C - 8°C or 15°C -25°C for up to 220 ULDs and other freezer and chiller facilities at our hub, we are fully equipped to handle all perishable imports, exports and transit shipments. The airside Climate Control Centre that opened earlier this year enhances our cool chain solution at the airside for all transshipments requiring climate controlled storage during transfers.

The biggest challenge is to maintain the cool chain consistently throughout transportation. Not all airports that import and export perishables have the dedicated facilities that are available to customers at Doha hub. In such cases, we work with all parties involved to come up with bespoke solutions for our customers.

What is your take on the infrastructure for perishable handling?
A seamless cool chain is of utmost importance to maintain the quality and freshness of perishables. Our new 2,470 square meters Climate Control Centre has two zones operating at 2-8°C or 15-25°C, with the capacity to hold a total of 156 ULDs at a time. There are segregated sections to hold perishables and pharmaceuticals. There are six truck docks with inflated curtains that seal around the truck when docked, to ensure complete temperature integrity. The facility will enable us to handle an additional 2 million tonnes throughput per annum. We will also introduce an industry-leading temperature-controlled ramp handling system, which will provide temperature and location visibility for products on the ramp. We also provide customers with a swift and efficient 90 minute transit time at our Doha Hub while a dedicated Climate Control Team proactively monitors every temperature-controlled shipment from beginning to end, anticipating any potential issues and ensuring a seamless transfer.

Our refrigerated trucks at the Doha hub are always used for products that require cooling, ensuring the unit is consistently under temperature control. We store products in these trucks if the connection time is short and have them wait on the tarmac. If the connection time is longer, even at a distance of 200 metres, we will drive the goods in these trucks into the refrigerated area of the warehouse. We have invested in these vehicles to make sure there's never a gap in the cool chain for shipments transiting the Doha hub.

Give details of the technology adaptation in cargo handling.
At Qatar Airways Cargo, we have always seen technology and automation as a critical enabler of business and digitalisation. To improve our customer experience, we launched the mobile application called ‘QR Cargo’, to provide ease and convenience to our global customers, while enabling instant track and trace function at customers’ fingertips. The mobile application is linked to our CROAMIS system, which provides real-time data and updates for each logistic milestone achieved, direct to our customers.

With the increased emphasis on data transfer between the different cargo stakeholders, the use of web-based handling systems has become paramount for all cargo handling organisations. This includes the use of handheld scanners to be able to monitor and track the complete journey of an air waybill from acceptance through to final delivery. This allows transparency for the customer via a web-based tracking application, a service once only available to courier product ranges. Many of the world’s major cargo hubs including Qatar have a fully automated ULD and consignment storage systems. These systems are driven from a central control room using cargo handling software to optimise processes which were once very labour intensive.

Our high-tech ‘Cargo Warehouse Information System’ (CWIS) can pinpoint the location of every cargo item in the terminal with precise accuracy. This means that all cargo can be tracked and processed quickly and efficiently, whether it’s stored in the ULD System, consignment cages or in any of the various special cargo handling areas.

What according to you can revolutionise/bring in more ease in ground handling?
The speed of operations, efficiency and accuracy, are very essential in ground handling operations to minimise aircraft turnaround time and handling costs. Investment in staff, training, technology such as unique piece identification, i.e. individual piece barcode and investment on facilities are some of the factors that can ease ground handling. It is also essential to have good collaboration between all parties involved throughout the airport operations to ensure success.

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