IAG Cargo evaluates wider co-operation with Qatar Airways

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IAG-owned British Airways is to focus its cargo operations on temperature-sensitive belly freight, with pure freighter flights being conducted by partners such as fellow Oneworld carrier Qatar Airways.

BA is phasing out its Boeing 747-8 freighters after the freight arm of its parent group, IAG Cargo, last month signed a deal with Qatar Airways to purchase capacity on freighter flights from Hong Kong via Doha to London from May onwards. The UK carrier’s tree wet-leased 747-8Fs will be prematurely returned to ACMI specialist Atlas Air in April, a five-year lease agreement having been signed in 2011.

Now, there is “more news to come” about the cargo partnership with Qatar Airways, said Tony Snell – IAG Cargo’s regional commercial manager for Africa and the Middle East – on 6 February, at a media event in Johannesburg marking BA’s Airbus A380 deployment to the South African city.

While there was an “appetite to work together” on the Hong Kong-London route in the short term, “there are [other] options” for co-operation in the long term, says Snell. However, he does not rule out similar partnerships with other carriers.

Meanwhile, all long-haul aircraft newly delivered to BA are equipped with air-conditioned cargo holds. The temperature in the forward freight compartments on both the 787 and A380 can be maintained within 1°C accuracy, while the environmental controls on previous aircraft types merely allowed temperature bands to be set.

The A350, which is to join BA’s fleet from 2018, will also have an air-conditioned cargo hold. Precise temperature control – which full freighters typically offer – is particularly important for livestock or pharmaceutical products.

Some 70% of BA’s cargo out of Africa is made up of perishable goods, such as fruit and flowers, says Snell. While those goods can be adequately chilled on older aircraft types, he sees potential for more pharmaceutical transports to Asia and, via Iberia’s network, to Latin America.

“There is talk” of carrying more pharmaceutical goods to Africa too, he says, adding: “I’d like to do more.” However, for that continent, the majority of cargo is still accounted for by perishable products on outbound flights to the UK. These need to be shipped on frequent passenger flights rather than BA's once-weekly 747-8F service from Johannesburg via Nairobi to London. For this reason, Snell sees the end of BA's pure freighter flights having no significant impact on IAG Cargo’s business in his region.

For the future, a closely knit network of passenger flights – conducted by BA, Iberia and other partners – will be crucial to carry belly freight quickly to a wide range of destinations. New aircraft types – especially the A350-1000 and the 787-9 and -10 – will “turn the dial” to increasing freight volumes, he says.

From 12 February, the A380 will be deployed on one of BA’s twice-daily London-Johannesburg flights, both of which have thus far been operated by 747-400s. While the A380 has space for up to five cargo pallets – one fewer than on the predecessor model – Snell insists the smaller space will pose no constraint.

He argues that BA is growing its total belly-freight capacity from South Africa, as the airline is extending its current twice-daily 747 flights from Cape Town to London into the summer 2014 schedule. That frequency was reduced to one daily service during previous summer timetables.