There is no question that when
purpose is attached to power, magic can happen.
Right now, Doha-based Qatar Airways Cargo
is the largest carrier in the region, having surpassed the likes of Emirates
and others in the Middle East who by comparison seem as if they are moving
in the slow lane.
As you read this in mid-July 2020, Qatar
Airways Cargo has actually taken things further and now stands alone as
the number one air cargo carrier in the world.
Not since Ram Menen led the Dubai-based
Emirates’ cargo fortunes in the 1990s has the industry seen such
a meteoric rise in the fortunes of a carrier.
Today, despite a cruel and unjust blockade
imposed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE, and a global pandemic
that has wiped nearly everyone else off the map, Qatar from tiny Doha
has expanded and risen like the legendary phoenix.
At the center of it all resides top management:
Akbar Al Baker, the airline’s extremely hands on chief executive
and Guillaume Halleux, the chief officer cargo.
Soft spoken but always bright and appealing,
Guillaume came into the business working alongside cargo people in Paris,
France, handling logistics for the Air France Concorde.
During the past five years in QR, Guillaume
has quietly and in a very unassuming manner guided his cargo team to the
top of the world, even through the aforementioned blockade and now the
worst global pandemic in recent history.
Now Guillaume believes this is a seminal
time for advancing change.
Feet Up in Command
are having a video call. It is 0600 in New York City and 1400 in Doha,
just after lunch.
I am sitting on a couch that blessedly does
not have a bookcase behind it as maybe 99 percent of every video meeting
from home has these days.
While making sure there is no toothpaste
on my face, looking into my screen at myself I do notice the reproduction
panel from Arshille Gorky’s “Aviation under Aerodynamic Limitations”
is easily visible. The iconic mural was created for LaGuardia Airport,
then lost in the 1940s before it was found in Newark by a man named Stephen
I have always loved the art and also the
title of the work.
Guillaume says hello from an office filled
with airplanes and artwork. He assures me that although I cannot see it,
he has his feet up on his desk as he speaks.
We both agree that this new world of video
meetings is novel fun, and since neither one of us is travelling much
these days, the form that must be used might as well be enjoyed with a
“The future of this type of communication
is hybrid,” Guillaume declares. “You will always need face
“You are in the USA; I am in Doha.
If we can meet face to face a couple of times a year and the rest of the
time like this, I think it’s OK.”
Challenges & Topping Global Air Cargo
“I thought the blockade was tough;
I thought the volcanic ash incident of some years ago was difficult, but
COVID-19 has just been insane.
“It has been pure hell,” Guillaume
As we spoke came the dramatic news that
Qatar Airways Cargo had donated a charity lift of one million kilos (two
million pounds) capacity to customers serving humanitarian efforts around
Readers might recall that as COVID-19 took
hold in China earlier this year, Qatar Airways launched a humanitarian
effort and sent a fleet of freighters to China with PPE equipment to help
the stricken people in Wuhan. So, this latest effort would be the second
time during the pandemic that the flagship airline of one of the smaller
nations in the world reached out to help others by punching way above
“The idea came to me a couple years
ago,” Guillaume said.
“On vacation with my wife and children
in Kenya we were actually overcome with the extreme poverty there.
“My wife wondered what we could do
to help and lit upon the idea of leaving everything we owned except the
clothes on our backs.
“So, we flew home with empty suitcases,
but our hearts filled with the certainty to never cast a blind eye to
the needs of others.
“Now as Qatar Airways becomes the
largest air cargo carrier in the world, our responsibility to help others
is magnified in my mind.”
Braggadocio Stopped at the Door
“We are by no means ever going to
be strutting around, arrogant about our position in the air cargo business.
Rather, our team has been charged from top to bottom to never forget that
the people and partners in our business and markets play an important
part in our success.
“Our thought now is that our leadership
role also comes with responsibility.
“We plan to make things better for
people and air cargo by actioning truly innovative new ideas and programs
that will help people and inspire further initiatives.
“Our million-kilo effort here is in
reality ‘Chapter One’ of an ongoing outreach program with
similar initiatives in the wings, including a greatly enhanced & wide-ranging
environmental program and other surprises that will continue throughout
the rest of 2020.”
Exceed the Need
“There is no question that in this
current environment and looking ahead, solidarity is more important than
“It may seem hardly original that
we have approached our business partners with thanks for their support
and have given them tonnage to help a charity of their choice.”
“The plan [branded ‘We Qare’
by the airline] has worked,” Guillaume said.
“We have already heard back from companies
that have been allotted 10 or 50 tons who are enthusiastically onboard
and want to talk about it.
“We are thrilled about spreading the
word via various companies big and small, because words can lead to actions
that might in some way change the landscape a bit and make our industry
What do You Want to Happen?
“I want air cargo to collectively
be much more efficient and aware of the world around us as an industry.
“There is too much waste in what we
“In the air cargo industry, a product
that would serve as stand-by cargo to utilize unfilled space on flights
does not really exist,” Guillaume said.
With Charity for People in Need
company develops a space available product, but as an industry a way to
fill empty space on flights does not universally exist, and it should.”
Customer Country in July 2020
“The conversation right now
is that we are in this for the long run,” Guillaume said.
“This COVID is not going to
“Air cargo has taken a massive
hit on belly capacity, which used to represent 60 percent of our total
“Despite some claims that rates
have dropped, the truth is that capacity restraints have jacked up rates
that will remain high for the next 18 to 24 months, or at least until
passengers—who are not willing to travel now—return.
“So, the capacity will not come
back quickly, affording tremendous leverage for freighter operators or
for operators like United Airlines, which has cargo expertise.
“United has no freighters, but
is doing superbly in this business right now moving cargo,” Guillaume
“The action, if you look at
the broad landscape, is where it was prior to the shutdown.
“China is back to manufacturing,
but you must remember while the output is there from China, the capacity
to implement airborne activity has been cut by 60 percent.
“So even if your numbers are
currently down by 30 percent, you still have more demand than supply under
the current scenario.”
About Virtual Meetings
“It seems I am in a meeting
all the time.
“Today is quieter than yesterday
[Sunday], when we conducted maybe ten virtual meetings.
“Prior to COVID, we would have
maybe a dozen meetings a day face to face, back to back.
“What I like about virtual is
that it is quite punctual; in fact, it is always on time, start to finish.
By comparison, face to face allows for time to pass by almost unnoticed.
“Technology for the virtual
platform works 90 percent of the time or better; picture and sound are
Caught with Your Pants Down
“The informality aspect of the
virtual dress code can catch you at times.
“My team caught me during one
virtual encounter while working from home.
“While my upper body was all
trim and proper in a business shirt, as I stood up to quickly turn down
the A/C, everyone saw that I was wearing a pair of relaxed, comfortable
“So, I took quite a working
over from my team who thought that incident was hilarious.
“As mentioned earlier, you will
never replace face to face, but the future will find room for more virtual
Hopscotching the World
“Asia is still quite strong,
especially Southeast Asia right now, because this is the area that is
driving the PPE shipments all over the world.
“China as we said is back to
some sort of normal.
“Europe has come back strong
as has India.
“But India has zero belly capacity
and needs every single air cargo flight it can get.
“The good old USA, the greatest
market in the world, is rebounding nicely given the circumstances.
“I am aware of all the downsides
and recognizing the pain and suffering COVID-19 has caused all over the
world, I cannot help but wonder how much better we might have been able
to handle all the challenges of built in roadblocks that hamper the movement
The Paperwork Jungle
“COVID-19 has made it apparent
right now what a huge and detrimental handicap we must bear as an industry,
suffering every day underneath the paperwork jungle that never stops impacting
“Digitalization and uncomplicating
the air cargo industry must be among our no-holds-barred goals ahead.
“We must find a way,”
Guillaume Halleux declared.
in the Family
“We are all here, my wife and
two children. Usually we are in America or France this time of year, but
this go around we have drawn together with our new best friend, a dog
we adopted from the shelter.
“We take turns walking him but
must avoid daytime because the pavement burns his feet. He is a mixed
breed; we call him a ‘Doha Special’ when someone asks.
“Dogs are wonderful spirits
and I especially appreciate that their only priority when they look at
you centers upon wondering ‘what’s up?’
“We have also taken to cooking
more elaborate meals that we all enjoy thinking up and preparing, so I
suppose the day of reckoning will see the need to lose a few kilos.
“I have found some time to takes
lots of pictures. I built a photo studio on the top floor of our home
here. I love photography, so it’s nice to be surrounded by a handsome
and willing family during this time.”
“If there is one thing we would
appreciate as takeaway here it is our charity effort ‘We Qare,’”
“Everyone here both up at the
top and all along the various aspects of our company have embraced this
“As we move forward and unveil
the various other aspects of ‘We Qare’ my guess is that people
will love it even more.”
As we said our goodbyes, it occurred
to me that I had just had the luxury of an open and quite frank discussion
with a top executive at the number one air cargo airline in the world,
and despite the rapid rise to the top Guillaume Halleux remains remarkably
humble and down to earth.
He is considerate, open, frank, and
kind, with a lovely capacity for open communication in an engaging and
If a virtual meeting can be viewed
as opening a door to better understanding, for some moments I opened the
door to a brave new world.