Shanghai – Today at Air Cargo China, Qatar Airways’ chief officer cargo Guillaume Halleux confirmed what Cargo Facts had long believed – that it will not be renewing the leases on three A330-200Fs currently in its fleet and will be returning the aircraft to the lessor once leasing agreements expire in early 2019. The fate of the five remaining A330-200Fs the carrier owns, meanwhile, remains uncertain. “I cannot hide the fact that we are considering removing them,” Halleux said.
Freighter capacity lost by the three outgoing A330-200Fs will be replaced by two 777Fs which are expected to be delivered ahead of this year’s peak season in late 2018. Both aircraft are part of an outstanding order Qatar had with Boeing and are not included in Qatar Airways’ recent LOI for five additional 777Fs.
If Qatar decides to abandon the A330-200F, it would be the second carrier in the region to do so. In January, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways parked all five of its A330-200Fs. For Qatar Airways, upgauging to the 777F is indicative of the scale of its network. Halleux said that the A330-200F was ideal for testing a new route or gauging how the market would respond to an added frequency. But as soon as it becomes apparent that the full capacity of a 777F can be utilized, the operating costs justify the switch to a 777F. With twenty-three widebody freighters in operation, there simply are not enough new or untested routes to justify keeping so many of the smaller A330-200Fs in its fleet.
Likewise, the chances of increased reliance on the 747-8F, the third airframe type and most recent addition to QR Cargo’s fleet, is also slim. Noting that the two -8Fs in the QR Cargo fleet were performing well, Halleux said that due to the large payload, his airline’s philosophy is that “this is not an aircraft that is suitable for the entire world.” Instead, “we utilize these aircraft where we know the typology of airfreight is compatible.” QR Cargo currently utilizes the -8F for scheduled services to destinations like Hong Kong and Seoul, where it can utilize the 140 tonnes of capacity. Moving forward, Halleux does not expect QR Cargo will see a need for additional 747-8Fs. “That’s why the most recent LOI was for five 777Fs,” he said.
Since October 2017, the Doha-based carrier has taken delivery of two 747-8Fs and a single 777F. Although the 777F order was expected, the delivery date was pushed forward. The two 747-8Fs, on the other hand, came as something of a surprise – the additional capacity was added in response to a Saudi-led blockade that dramatically reduced the volume of food moving into Qatar through the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Under the blockade, QR Cargo has been called upon to import food from abroad.
Historically, only about 15% of what Qatar flies ends up in Doha. This ratio jumped to 20% during the first two months of the blockade but has since returned to 15% as the carrier added additional capacity. With no sign of the blockade being lifted, Qatar began looking to more permanent solutions and has launched initiatives to promote greater self-sufficiency for the country. When asked if this could eventually leave QR Cargo with an oversupply of freighter capacity, Halleux shrugged, adding “We have plenty of other options to redeploy aircraft outside of Doha.”