The flights, which will be performed on Boeing 777F aircraft, represent a significant expansion plan for the Middle Eastern carrier. Previously, the only North American city served by Qatar Airways’ cargo division was Chicago. O’Hare International Airport recently welcomed enhanced freight service, however, as Qatar increased its frequency to the Midwestern city on October 30.
“With the recent completion of our 35-percent stake in Cargolux, Europe’s largest cargo airline, we have increased our focus on freighter operations, which ties seamlessly into the airline’s strategy to have as many connecting points across the globe from our Doha hub,” Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker said in a statement.
“We have identified tremendous route expansion opportunities around the world, including North America, where the freighter market is huge,” he continued.
Representatives for the carrier said that daily passenger routes to New York, Washington and Houston, along with thrice-weekly service to Montreal, also offer significant belly-hold cargo capacity. Houston, however, required a dedicated freight route.
As the energy capital of the world, Houston is a major producer of oil and natural gas, in addition to biotechnology and nanotechnology solutions, explained Luis Aviles, senior executive for air service development for Houston Airports. And these sectors necessitate shipments of machinery and special equipment by air, he said.
The new Qatar route directly addresses this need, Aviles said. “This route will be mainly utilized to export industrial machinery and equipment for the oil/gas industry, as well as machinery and equipment for the engineering/construction industry,” he said. “On the imports side, [Qatar] will bring to IAH industrial components and equipment for the oil/gas sector.”
What’s more, Aviles said the new route covers two of Houston’s biggest markets: Luxembourg and Doha. Houston, which reported 46.2-percent higher freight volumes to the Middle East in the first nine months of 2011, also fared well in Europe during this period, with cargo traffic to this region surging 10.8 percent, year-over-year.
Aviles expects the commencement of the Qatar route to improve freight volumes even more. After all, he said, additional airfreight capacity to and from Houston translates to greater opportunities for shippers and logistics providers.
“With this service, shippers and logistics companies will have a new option to improve or develop new supply chains to and from Europe and the Middle East,” Aviles remarked. “We are confident that this operation will be a tremendous success for Qatar Cargo.”
Officials from Hartsfield-Jackson hope Qatar similarly benefits from its new route to Atlanta. As the 10th largest U.S. exporter to the Middle East in 2010, Atlanta offers Qatar Airways “a geographically desirable location for cargo carriers and freight forwarders that want to expand their global networks with lower operating costs,” Hartsfield-Jackson Aviation General Manager Louis Miller stated.
“Companies readily can connect with air, road and railway transportation systems in Atlanta,” Miller continued. “The addition of Qatar Airways will further enhance our airport’s reputation as a leading cargo airport.”
North America isn’t the only cargo market Qatar Airways is eying, however. The Doha-based carrier recently increased its freight service to Kuwait, Bengaluru, Hanoi and Kozhikode, India. It also launched weekly cargo service to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on October 30.