With demand for goods rising in the midst of the pandemic, Qatar Airways Cargo and its freight forwarding partners on Friday resumed flights to Pittsburgh International Airport, citing PIT’s ability to unload shipments and send them on their way within hours of arrival.
The cargo carrier will be landing at PIT weekly for the next six months, delivering consumer goods and further strengthening the airport’s increased focus on cargo during the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s the latest cargo boost for the airport, which saw Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways commit to three months of international cargo service earlier this year.
“We are glad to return to Pittsburgh and support our partners with their cargo requirements. The business community, freight forwarders and shippers in Pennsylvania also benefit from direct access to our global network via Doha,” said Guillaume Halleux, Chief Officer Cargo at Qatar Airways. “The mini freighters and passenger freighters introduced during the pandemic demonstrate our agility and support in ensuring the continuity of global trade.”
Larger airports, including Los Angeles, Chicago O’Hare, Atlanta and New York’s JFK, can take two days to pick up cargo, said Viknesh Harichandra, executive vice president of Apex Logistics International, a freight forwarder—and partner on the flight—that coordinates delivery of shipments to their final destinations.
“With Pittsburgh, we can get things turned around quickly and, within a few hours of a flight’s arrival, it clears customs and it’s on its way,” he said. “If we can get these trucks to move quickly—pick up the freight and move it—that makes a lot of sense saving time and money in the long term.”
He said Apex has handled more than 900 cargo charters this year alone and is looking to incorporate PIT in their plans.
Qatar served PIT for two years with twice-weekly Boeing 777 freighters until suspending operations in December 2019, as international trade tensions weakened global cargo demand. As the effects of the pandemic spread worldwide, demand for cargo returned, offering a rare bright spot for the aviation industry.
Many airlines began converting passenger planes into cargo planes. Similar to other international cargo carriers using PIT as a gateway during the pandemic, Qatar Airways Cargo will be flying a converted Boeing 777-300ER.
That’s the same type of plane that Cathay Pacific operated twice weekly from Hong Kong to PIT from September through November. Unique Logistics International partnered with Cathay Pacific as the freight forwarder on that flight and is also a partner on this Qatar Airways Cargo flight with Apex Logistics International and Expo Group, Bangladesh.
“Unique is proud to work with Apex Logistics in conjunction with Expo Group, Bangladesh and Qatar Airways Cargo to continue our partnership with Pittsburgh International,” said Marc Schlossberg, executive vice president of Unique Logistics. “Qatar’s coverage from the Indian subcontinent is second to none and their new mini freighters provide a unique option during these difficult times with capacity scarce.”
All-freighter service continues to be a growing part of PIT’s business plan, which was jumpstarted by the arrival of Qatar Airways Cargo three years ago, said PIT vice president of government and corporate affairs Vince Gastgeb.
“The initial Qatar Airways Cargo flights illustrated to the cargo and business community that service can work and that Pittsburgh is a cargo solution to the worldwide freight ecosystem,” Gastgeb said. “Along with the service goes economic generation and jobs to a lot of regional companies at time when it is greatly needed.”
Air cargo has a direct impact on jobs, from those unloading the planes to local trucking companies taking the products to their destinations, he said.
PIT’s speed and convenient geographical location resonate with players in the cargo industry.
“We are delighted to partner with Qatar Airways Cargo to launch services from Dhaka to Pittsburgh (with the U.S.) being the second biggest export region of Bangladesh,” said Mahbubul Anam, managing director of Expo Group, Bangladesh. “Strategically, PIT is very attractive as the turnaround time is so efficient and that is of prime importance to our customer.
“This partnership with Qatar Airways Cargo is a new beginning, especially during these times of crisis, to provide seamless service across the Atlantic Ocean regions.”
Last fall, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded PIT an $18.69 million BUILD grant to support the construction of a 75,000-square-foot cargo processing facility and an adjacent surface parking lot to expand air cargo operations.
Under PIT’s “Cargo 4 Project,” the new building will allow for larger aircraft, new cargo destinations on all-freighter aircraft or additional parking for integrator carriers like FedEx or UPS that require sorting facilities and high volumes of truck access.
Additionally, over the past several months, the airport has welcomed five FEMA charter flights operated by National Airlines, carrying critical medical supplies from South Korea. And as part of its cargo focus, PIT officials signed an agreement with Ted Stevens Anchorage International this summer to collaborate in better streamlining the global air cargo supply chain.