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Tue 3 Jan 2006 04:00 AM

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Qatar Airways focuses on its freighter fleet

Qatar Airways is ramping up its freighter fleet in line with wider plans to grow its cargo business.

Qatar Airways is ramping up its freighter fleet in line with wider plans to grow its cargo business. The carrier has already wet-leased two DC-10 freighters, in addition to its own A300-600F, but it is now planning to replace these with 747s followed by 777s, while adding more –600Fs. The airline is also drawing up a strategy to target emerging destinations rather than trying to break into already crowded major airports.

The carrier kicked off its freighter fleet expansion drive in October, when it began wet-leasing two DC-10s from Miami-based Cielos del Peru. These aircraft have allowed the carrier to serve long-haul destinations in Europe and Asia, including Qatar’s first freighter flights into China, but they are only seen as a temporary solution.

“The DC-10 an old freighter and it is really not the freighter we want to use on the long-haul runs we are doing currently,” explained Bruce Gillette, general manager, cargo, Qatar Airways. “However, it is a good bridge and we have to start somewhere.”

The airline is aiming to replace these DC-10s with wet-leased 747 freighters within the next couple of months. The plan then is for these aircraft to remain in Doha up to 2009, at which point the carrier may decide to convert the first of the 20 777 orders that it is close to finalising into freighters. “We will probably have the wet-leased 747 freighters online up to the next three years,” said Gillette. “That is then when we can exercise the first option to convert four of the 777s that we have on order to 777 freighters, if the CEO and the board choose to do so.”

Alongside the widebody aeroplanes, the airline is also planning to convert two of its passenger A300-600s into freighters. The first of these planes is due to be delivered by the end of the year, with the other expected to arrive in the first or second quarter of 2007.

Furthermore, the cargo department will also be able to utilise the bellyholds of the airline’s rapidly expanding passenger fleet, including the 777s and the 60 A350s that were first announced at Paris. As such, freight is expected to become an increasingly significant contributor to the carrier’s overall revenues. “We are currently about 13%, and we want to grow the business to somewhere between 25% and 30% over the next three to five years,” said Gillette.

To fill all of its new capacity, Qatar Airways is adopting a different strategy to other large cargo operators in the region. First of the all, the carrier is planning cooperate heavily with other airlines through alliances. “We are looking for airline partners to help us grow together, as we will be codesharing aeroplanes versus doing it alone.” explained Gillette. “It is a little bit different from the Emirates model and the Etihad model that you are currently seeing in the marketplace.”

The airline will also be flying its freighters into less established cargo markets. This will then allow it to gain a first-mover advantage instead of having to face well-established rivals on major routes. “I do not want to be one of 1000 carriers that go from Hong Kong to Frankfurt,” explained Gillette. “Instead, I would rather go to a secondary market in China, for instance, which is a new emerging market, and be first in class there.”

Gillette refused to be drawn on specific destinations that the carrier was planning to target, but its first destination in China, Macau, clearly fits the model. Potential routes for the 747Fs are also being kept under wraps for now, but flights to North America, for instance, would certainly seem feasible. “It has the range to go wherever you want to go,” commented Gillette.

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