SEATTLE – Yesterday, His Excellency Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways was onsite at Boeing’s Delivery Center in Everett, WA to celebrate the handover of Qatar Airways Cargo’s maiden 747-8F (63199). The delivery of a second 140-tonne capacity nose-loading freighter is expected in November, and beyond that, QR Cargo’s rapidly growing freighter fleet will continue to expand. During an adjunct press conference following a signing ceremony for the -8F, Al Baker revealed the Doha-based airline has more 777Fs on order than have been publicly announced.
Currently, Qatar Airways Cargo maintains a sizeable fleet of twelve 777Fs, and eight A330-200Fs, and now a single 747-8F of its own. Just how many more 777Fs is QR Cargo expecting to add to its fleet? The airline has previously announced orders for four additional 777Fs, and yesterday, Al Baker added, “as a matter of fact, we have seven more 777-200LRFs to be delivered.” Additional orders for 747-8Fs meanwhile, are another matter.
Beyond the second 747-8F, Al Baker did not rule out additional 747 orders, referring to the two-unit order as an “introduction” of a new aircraft type, Al Baker called additional 747-8 orders a “possibility.” Although QR Cargo has never owned 747-8Fs of its own, the carrier is no stranger to 747-400F noseloader operations. In 2015, Qatar Airways ACMI-leased a 747-400BDSF (24998) from Turkey-based myCargo Airlines, which was eventually replaced with a production 747-400F noseloader, also ACMI-leased from myCargo. Then, beginning in June 2016, QR Cargo switched ACMI operators, and began leasing a 747-400F (29729) from Azerbaijan-based Silk Way West Airlines’ Italian subsidiary, SW Italia.
It is unclear if QR Cargo will continue to ACMI-lease the 747-400F, or if the carrier plans to hand-off the recently delivered 747-8F to be operated on a CMI-basis by a carrier with a larger 747 fleet. Cargo Facts believes, however, that CMI operations are most likely, unless of course, QR Cargo adds more 747Fs to its fleet.
The cause of Qatar Airways’ sudden robust demand for freighter aircraft is two-fold. On one hand, the air freight demand has been growing at a double-digit rate across most trade lanes since the beginning of 2017, and the carrier has seen strong organic growth as a result. Another factor has been the ongoing blockade against exports to Qatar led by Saudi Arabia and its allies. Following what QR’s CEO vehemently refers to as the “illegal” blockade, Qatar Airways Cargo has seen volumes surge. June tonnage was up 160% y-o-y, as QR Cargo suddenly became “the main provider of fresh food, fish, medical supplies” and other commodities, said Al Baker.
Just how long will the blockade last? Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has told journalists, “We can live forever like this.” With the additional freighter capacity, QR Cargo is also preparing for the long haul. And even if the blockade was suddenly lifted, and Qatar’s reliance on air imports diminished, Al Baker said his airline’s freighter order book would not be impacted.
Those interested in learning more about the demand for freighter aircraft, are invited to join us in Miami 2-4 October for the Cargo Facts Symposium. For more information, or to register, visit www.cargofactssymposium.com