Qatar Airways' cargo operations chief believes it is only a matter of days before European demand returns to normal. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Qatar Airways’ cargo business will be front and centre in about a year’s time when Doha hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup. With millions of fans thronging to the Qatari capital, securing food supplies is of the utmost priority.

“This means huge developments of traffic flows into Qatar, mostly perishable, to feed the people who will come and see the games in capacity,” said Guillaume Halleux, Chief Officer Cargo of Qatar Airways Cargo. “There is also a growth opportunity there.

“We will not do anything radically different - what will change is the infrastructure and flow distribution at (Hamad International) airport.”

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Expansion plans

Encouraged by the recent worldwide surge in freight demand, Qatar Airways is going ahead with a second dedicated cargo terminal at Hamad International. “We have just decided and approved the investment,” said Halleux. “We are looking at growing our fleet [and] we do expect our business to continue to grow significantly.”

Halleux said that while Asia will be a major growth driver for cargo, Europe will come back in a big way for Qatar Airways next year. “We expect very significant developments in the European Union starting from October or November 2021 because of customer demand and relaxation of the ‘traffic light’ policies,” said the cargo head.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control publishes a map of EU member-states, which shows risk levels across the regions in Europe using a traffic light system. Regions will be indicated in ‘green’, ‘orange’, ‘red’, ‘dark red’ and ‘grey.

Demand patterns

When Covid hit the airline industry in March 2020, two-thirds of the world’s freight tonnage was carried on passenger flights. “There was a natural demand for cargo as 66 per cent of the supply suddenly disappeared,” said Halleux.

Passenger fleet services have still not returned to normal and, as a result, capacity is still lagging demand. “Qatar Airways was the airline that also flew the most on the passenger side and, right now, with the resumption of passenger services, we have given back a number of airplanes to our passenger colleagues,” said Halleux.

Global demand, measured in cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), was up 8.6 per cent in July, compared to the same period in 2019, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “Economic conditions indicate the strong growth trend will continue into the peak year-end demand period,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General, in a statement.

“The Delta variant of COVID-19 could bring some risks - if supply chains and production lines are disrupted, there is potential for a knock-on effect for air cargo shipments.”