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Mon 11 Aug 2008 04:00 AM

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Qatar rising

Although there have been delays in the roll-out of New Doha International Airport, Qatar's blistering economic growth rates and the success of the national carrier are set to combine to create a worldclass facility when it opens its doors in 2011.

Although there have been delays in the roll-out of New Doha International Airport, Qatar's blistering economic growth rates and the success of the national carrier are set to combine to create a worldclass facility when it opens its doors in 2011.

Small, exceptionally affluent and subject to increasingly rapid development, the Gulf state of Qatar is carving out a name for itself as an economy that is diversifying from its rich hydrocarbon resources and investing in key infrastructural developments.

According to a leading business magazine, quoting the International Monetary Fund's most recent consultation with Qatari financial officials, the average income in the state now stands at US$80,870, meaning that Qatar's population has overtaken that of Luxembourg to become the world's richest.

The new hub will provide the latest cargo facilities, including a high-bay storage area for import/export cargo and will meet worldclass standards.

Furthermore, recent results show that the country's first-quarter results saw the economy increase by 15.3% on the last quarter of 2007, to $23.16 billion.

With double-digit growth being experienced in many industry sectors, it comes as no surprise that transport and logistics are high on the government's agenda, as the state implements policies that require an enormous amount of resources to be pumped seamlessly into the desert nation.

To that end, Doha International Airport (DIA) and the Government of the State of Qatar announced in 2003 the beginnings of a plan that would see a new airport built to the east of the current facility, which would be in a position to match the significant developments going on elsewhere in the Gulf.

Fast forward five years and the project is well underway, with the first planes set to touch down at some point during 2011.

The two-phase development was originally set to be concluded in 2015, but the growth of Qatar Airways has meant that the date was pushed forward four years, by which time New Doha International Airport (NDIA)'s main cargo terminal will be in a position to process 750,000 tonnes of cargo per year, thus potentially putting it amongst the 20 most significant hubs in terms of throughput in the world.

With its home base at Doha, Qatar Airways is playing a strong role both in the management of the current airport and the design of the new one. The company sees NDIA as the region's future aviation hub, and is a major stakeholder in the design process for the new facility.

With John Batten's recent departure from the helm of Qatar Airways Cargo, we were unable to find an official who would be quoted publicly, so the company's comments on current issues are given on condition of anonymity. "Qatar Airways Cargo is playing a major part in the building design of the Cargo Terminal and of the new airport overall," indicates the Qatar Airways source.

"The new hub will provide the latest cargo facilities including a high-bay storage area for import and export cargo, workstations for make-up and breakdown of unit load devices (ULD) and meet worldclass standards. A main feature of the cargo terminal will be the automated storage and retrieval system, which will ensure the efficient processing of shipments."

In the meantime, the current facilities at DIA are proving more than adequate for the task of coping with the burgeoning cargo growth that Qatar has been witnessing. "To cope with the increase in business arising from Qatar Airways' rapidly growing fleet size, the cargo division has expanded its warehousing facilities at DIA," observes the Qatar Airways source.

"The increase in space includes a new import and export warehouse, plus cold storage facilities. Perishables are handled in the timeliest fashion possible, and special storage facilities are available for live animals and trained animal handlers, with veterinary surgeons providing continuous coverage to all flights operating to and from Doha." In addition, flown-as-booked (FAB) stands at a very impressive 97% and DIA is a congestion-free hub.

Cargo services at DIA are run by Qatar Airways' sister company, Qatar Aviation Services, which employs 1700 personnel and provides support to every airline operating through the facility.As a result, Qatar Airways Cargo shares its state-of-the-art facilities with other international players plying their trade through the hub.

"In 2007, we also expanded our warehouse tremendously with 50% additional floor space and and we are now capable of handling 400,000 freight tonnes a year," indicates the Qatar Airways spokesperson. "The x-ray facilities provide 100% security screening and the semi-automated storage warehouse is complete with barcoding and labelling systems.

NDIA cargo terminal• Cargo capacity will be 750,000 tonnes by 2009

• Aircraft parking facilities for up to 14 freighter jets

• Will be able to accommodate up to 1000 Unit Loading Devices

• 32 truck-loading facilities

• 48,000m² total building area

• 40,000m² additional cargo agent building at the terminal

"All categories of cargo are handled with the utmost care keeping in mind the nature of the goods. With state-of the-art equipment such as the Oryx Cargo automated system which offers web-based tracking and tracing of goods, we can assure customers that their cargo is safe and secure and, above all, is able to reach its destination on time," the source adds.

For Qatar Airways' cargo division, the new airport is not the only significant revenue driver on the horizon. In common with other regional operators such as Emirates SkyCargo, it is set to take delivery of the Boeing 777 freighter from 2009 onwards. With three operational A300-600 freighters already complementing the bellyhold capacity on Qatar Airways' passenger flights, the seven new aircraft will help extend the carrier's cargo network significantly.

"Today our freighter network includes Algiers, Amsterdam, Bahrain, Bangalore, Chennai, Colombo, Dhaka, Doha, Dubai, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Karachi, Khartoum, Lahore, Luxembourg, Milan, Nairobi, Tunis - so in total 18," says the Qatar Airways source.

"In addition to markets served online by Qatar Airways' fleet, Qatar Airways Cargo connects to major offline markets through a network of interline agreements with other carriers."

In addition, Qatar Airways Cargo is now a member of the Transported Asset Protection Association, a unique forum that unites freight carriers and other companies in the cargo field with the aim of reducing losses from international supply chains. It is also a member of the Germany-based Cool Chain Association, which sets standards for the transport of perishables for the logistics industry.

While company policy dictates that Qatar Airways Cargo does not release its cargo results, thus making it difficult to tell what sort of trends are present in the market, the expanded throughput available at NDIA and the addition of extra freighters points to strong growth.

With the Middle East emerging as one of the fastest-growing markets for both passenger and freight growth, the need for more substantial airport facilities is proven by multi-billion-dollar investments in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and a number of other locations around the Gulf.

NDIA itself is a $9 billion project and covers a 2200-hectare area just east of the current facility. Around half of the site has been reclaimed from the Arabian Gulf, as part of a mammoth project that saw 6.5 million tonnes of waste transported from its original resting place in the sea just off Doha to a new dump 40 kilometres away.

"The new airport was initially laid out to handle a capacity of 12 million passengers a year, but Qatar Airways today already carries more than 10 million passengers a year," says the company source. "The 2011 opening of the airport - combining phase one and two - will ensure it can handle 24 million passengers a year. Maximum development is forecast from 2015 onwards."

The initial extended throughput of up to 750,000 tonnes a year is substantial for a hub of Qatar's size and is certainly likely to put NDIA in the higher echelon of the world's cargo airports.

New Doha International Airport• The new airport will be around a quarter of the size of the old city of Doha

• The 350,000m² passenger terminal facility will be the largest building in Doha, covering an area the size of 50 football pitches. Moving passenger walkways will be installed to shorten travelling time to the contact gates

• Over 100 hectares alongside the airport have been reserved for commercial development, including a free trade zone

• NDIA is the first airport deliberately designed to accommodate the A380

• The facility will have hangars than will be able accommodate eight wide-body and four narrow-body aircraft, including A380s

• The hangar floor area will be around 70,000m² and the engineering office areas will be around 5500m²

• Air traffic control will also utilise modern technology to monitor aircraft and airside vehicles. High-resolution LCD displays will be incorporated, while installation of a ‘multilateration' tracking system is also planned. The system will use several beacons to monitor and identify all aircraft and vehicles in the airfield.

While such capacity is dwarfed by the intended 12-million-tonne-per-annum potential throughput of Dubai's Al Maktoum International, it does compare favourably with the figures currently being released by Dubai Cargo Village - the region's largest cargo hub - which is predicting traffic of around two million tonnes a year by 2010.

Such a development will enable Qatar Airways Cargo to carry goods on a large scale and offer our customers the latest developments in the field," explains the source.

It will have eight hardstand aircraft parking bays and extensive office space for the terminal operator and government agencies such as customs, agriculture and health departments and airline representatives."

The concept of sea-air freight, already a reality in the UAE, is one that has been considered during the planning of NDIA, despite the fact this form of intermodal transportation has not yet developed in Qatar.

Sea-air freight involves the transport of goods via sea vessels to a certain destination, whereupon they are then transferred onto freighter aircraft to be shipped to markets such as the US and Europe, thus leveraging significant cost benefits. Unlike in the sea-air hub of Dubai, however, Qatar's two main ports, Ras Laffan and Mesaieed, are not located nearby the state's main airport.

"The state of Qatar is going through dramatic change, with economic activity on a high through numerous construction projects for residential buildings, offices, hotels, resorts, new cities and, the huge infrastructure improvements in its gas and oil industry," indicates the source. "With such growth, infrastructure for sea-air freight is definitely being looked into and will be put in place in the future."

Married to such powerful economic growth, the new airport's future freight growth certainly looks secure. As with many major developments, there seems to be a degree of doubt about the actual opening date, which was originally set for 2009.

Qatari authorities have paradoxically laid the blame for the delays at the outstanding success of Qatar Airways, which meant that the carrier would likely have already outgrown capacity at the new facility if the initial plan to implement the opening of the Phase 1 development in 2009 had gone ahead.

To a degree, the question marks are still present over whether the new facilities can match the meteoric growth of the aviation industry in Qatar, although the size of the new development, not to mention its proximity to reclaimable land, certainly seems to indicate that any future expansion should be accommodated.

"Qatar Airways Cargo is set to become a market leader in freight solutions within our global network and through the development of the New Doha International Airport," adds the Qatar Airways source. "Based on our expansion and as we take delivery of the new freighters, we are definitely confident that we will increase our cargo business significantly in the upcoming years."

Qatar Airways Cargo• Specialises in airport-to-airport delivery

• Offers web-based tracking and tracing and will introduce online freight booking engine shortly

• Offers a platinum cargo service, where shipments take priority both on the ground and in the air, offering late acceptance, priority handling, flown as booked status and supported by a money-back guarantee

• Processes live animal shipments and specialises in particular in the transport of thoroughbred horses

• Has set procedures in place to ensure high security standards for valuable cargo

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