Uli Ogiermann seizes opportunity from Qatar blockade crisis

Call it Uli’s “swan song.” On June 5, a Saudi-lead blockade threw Qatari businesses into turmoil, snarling supply chains and sending panicked residents flocking to grocery stores to snatch up dwindling supplies. Five months later, those same stores are brimming with produce, and Qatar’s national economy is humming along. But that outcome wasn’t always certain, until Qatar Cargo mobilized a massive airlift to deliver supplies. Air Cargo World spoke with the man at the center, Ulrich Ogiermann, who recently announced his retirement as chief cargo officer at Qatar Airways at the end of this year. As his tenure at Qatar Cargo comes to a close, his leadership during this critical time warrants a closer look.

Q: How has the blockade changed Qatar’s economic and security outlook?

While the majority of the nation’s imported supplies now come by sea, we continue to manage the national air cargo requirements using leased freighters, leaving our global commercial operations running at full capacity. The state of Qatar has been actively investing in the agriculture and food sector through Hassad Food, Qatar’s premier investor in food and agri-business sectors. As a key partne r in the nation’s food-security strategy, we have been appointed to transport 4,000 Holstein cows to facilitate the dairy industry that is being developed in Qatar. We have begun these livestock shipments from the Americas and Europe on board more than twenty 777 charter freighters to Doha. This is the first time that Qatar Airways Cargo has experienced an airlift of this magnitude to support the establishment of a new industry, and we are proud to support Qatar’s economic development.

Q: Has Qatar Cargo’s operations adapted as a result?

The illegal blockade did provide some early challenges. During this period, we received and handled an average of 15 freighters daily, in addition to our normal capacity of cargo services to 60 destinations around the world. The freighters each transported between 60 to 100 tonnes of relief and food supplies such as dairy, vegetables, fruits, eggs and fresh meat. Managing such a precipitous increase in imports fully stress-tested Qatar Airways Cargo’s state-of-the-art investments, not just our billion-dollar, 55,000-square-meter cargo facility that opened mid-2015, but also our two brand-new facilities, which opened this summer – our dedicated Climate Control Centre and Cargo Overflow structure – providing close to an additional 10,000 square meters of temperature-controlled handling space.

Q: How were you able to expand capacity so rapidly?

Thankfully, we had planned well ahead for future commercial growth. With a timely growth in our Hong Kong freighter slot-portfolio – the single largest air cargo market in the world – we moved quickly from seventeen 777F flights per week to twenty-one flights. Along with this, we started upgrading capacity into the key region of the Indian sub-continent and offering more charter services to the commercial market, ensuring that we preserved our overall share of the global air cargo market. At the same time, we witnessed a surge in the demand for air cargo capacity for perishable goods into Qatar from an average of 180 tonnes per day to 900 tonnes per day. Recognizing the importance of preserving the integrity of our commercial schedule, Qatar Airways Cargo quickly sourced a range of aircraft from third-party providers, comprising military C-17s, 747Fs, A330Fs, A300Fs and Ilyushin aircraft to fly dedicated charters bringing in critical perishables.

Q: How is Qatar’s government helping affected businesses?

The state of Qatar has announced new sea routes with Pakistan, Malaysia and Taiwan, in addition to seatrade operating with China, India, Oman, Turkey and Iran. These sea routes enable Doha to circumvent the blockade. The urgent need to secure Qatar’s food supplies, and to source the extra aircraft to service that need, required careful management to minimize disruption to our normal operating schedule. As a result, we largely maintained our normal operating schedule. Those customers who joined us in accommodating the adjustments have seen our freighter fleet’s on-time-performance results return to business-as-usual levels, and 97 percent of our schedule is operating as planned.

Q: What steps are you taking to offset loss of access to certain markets?

Qatar Airways Cargo has proven itself to be a robust and resilient business, and we have maintained our global airfreight shares with preembargo customers. Since June 2017, we have launched flights to Dublin, Nice, Skopje, Sohar, Prague and Kiev. Upcoming belly destinations include Sarajevo, Adana and Chiang Mai, as well as 777 freighters [that were added] to Pittsburgh in the United States starting Oct. 11. We recently received our first nose-loader 747-8F and thirteenth 777 freighter, both being significant additions to our fleet in line with our fleet expansion strategy. With the new arrival, we are able to offer our customers a young and modern freighter fleet of one 747-8F, thirteen 777Fs and eight Airbus A330Fs.

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