How far can you go from Qatar?

Qatar Airways' 777Fs are regular visitors to Luxembourg, and may soon be visiting Australia and South America.

Qatar Airways’ 777Fs are regular visitors to Luxembourg, and may soon be visiting Australia and South America.

What is the farthest point on the globe from Doha? If our map-reading is correct, the most distant point from Qatar Airways hub in Doha is somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean, between South America and Australia – right where the airline says it intends to expand its cargo operations.

At the Air Cargo China event in Shanghai today, Qatar Airways cargo boss Ulrich Ogiermann said the carrier’s strategy was “to become a major player in the trans-Pacific, Australia, and South American markets in the next nine months.” Which, given the distance of these markets from Doha, means Qatar intends to develop what would be the most all-encompassing network of any cargo carrier.

Australia and South America are both a long way from Doha, but as long as there is sufficient freight, there is no reason Qatar could not serve destinations such as Sydney or Quito. But the trans-Pacific is a trade lane, not a destination, and for Qatar to become “a strong player” as Mr. Ogiermann said it intended to, is not as simple as flying to Sydney. How it intends to do this will be interesting — a hub in China? Round-the-world flights?

While much of the attention paid to Qatar Airways at the Shanghai conference was focused on the carrier’s plan to enter the above far-away markets, Mr. Ogiermann also announced the carrier’s establishment of a new European cargo hub in Luxembourg – in some ways a more interesting development that flying to Australia or South America.

Four years ago, almost to the day, Qatar Airways bought a 35% stake in Luxembourg-based all-cargo carrier Cargolux. At the time, Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker indicated that he expected the two carriers to work together to feed cargo into one another’s operations – i.e., that Luxembourg would, in effect, become a European hub for Qatar. The Qatar/Cargolux marriage ended in a less-than-amicable divorce eighteen months later, but the desire for a European hub obviously did not end at the same time.

Qatar currently operates five 777F flights a week through Luxembourg to four destinations in North America (Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles, Mexico City), and one A330-200F flight through Luxembourg to Oslo. According to Mr. Ogiermann, this will double from 1 July, with new destinations in the Americas, including Halifax and New York. He also said the growth of the Luxembourg hub would facilitate Qatar’s network expansion into South America, but did not provide any information about destinations.

In addition its rapidly growing fleet of widebody passenger aircraft, Qatar currently operates nine 777Fs, eight A330-200Fs, and ACMI-leases two 747-400Fs. It has six more 777Fs on order with Boeing.

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