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Despite March recovery, Doha reports drop in first quarter volumes

Today, Doha International Airport (DOH) reported it handled 505,581 tonnes of cargo in the first three months of 2019a 1.7% decline compared to the same period the year prior, according to data published by the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO).  

Although few airports have reported March volumes, data from Doha indicates that cargo traffic in March may have improved slightly over the first two months of 2019. Volumes in January and February of 2019 saw year-over-year declines of 4.7% and 4.1%, respectively, at 160,218 and 154,168 tonnes. Despite the initial dip in 2019 volumes, the airport saw a return in growth of volumes in March with growth of 3.1% year-over-year to 191,194 tonnes of cargo. Year-to-date, DOH has also seen an 8.3% increase in total aircraft movements to 19,552 take-offs and landings.  

The drop in throughput follows solid performance in 2018, during which DOH moved up in ranking to no. 12 on this year’s top 25 cargo airports list, following an  8.8% year-over-year increase in cargo throughput to 2,198,308 tonnes in 2018 Growth last year was likely driven by the expansion of networking connections to DOH, notably by its hub carrier, Qatar Airways Cargo, which added freighter flights to Macau (MFM), Los Angeles (LAX), Mexico City (MEX) and  Liège (LGG). 

Although Doha is one of the larger airports serving cargo operations in the EMEA region and Asian-European transit flights, DOH it is by no means the only cargo player in the region. In recent years, Doha has been experiencing increased competition from airports in neighboring countries. 

In 2018 Dubai’s Dubai International (DXB) and Dubai World Central (DWC) airports handled 2,641,383 tonnes and 987,986 tonnes of cargo, respectively. DXB saw a 0.5% decline in its cargo handle compared to 2017, while DWC saw an increase of 1.6% in cargo volumes. Furthermore, although DOH’s handle by scale is larger than that of DWC, the combined volumes of DXB and DWC at 3.62 million tonnes of cargo in 2018 dwarf DOH’s operations.  

Plans by other airports in the region to expand cargo operations could also intensify competition for cargo market share. Last month Saudi Arabia issued tenders for new rail, logistics and airport construction projects as part of national plans to transform its aviation sector into a regional hub for air cargo and logistics. DXB is also in the process of refurbishing its southern runway to support the growth of its cargo operations. 

Ultimately, whether or not growth continues into 2019 for DOH remains to be seen and will rely primarily on airfreight demand dynamicsIncreasingly, however, Doha’s market share could also be influenced by the ability of other airports and carriers in the region to rework cargo flows. 

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