Airport lands Qatar Airways for cargo flight
Christina Cassotis has landed a lot of big flights in more than two years at Pittsburgh International Airport. But she was especially thrilled with the one she got Thursday.
And it doesn’t even involve passengers.
Qatar Airways will start twiceweekly cargo service to and from Pittsburgh on Oct. 11, putting the Steel City in elite company and perhaps giving it a key tool to spur more development around the airport by hauling products such as heavy electronics, high-value manufactured goods and pharmaceuticals.
The Persian Gulf airline is the first international carrier to begin freighter service at the Findlay airport.
“It’s a game changer for the region,” said Ms. Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which operates Pittsburgh International.
With the new flight, companies in Pittsburgh and beyond will be able to fly their products directly to Europe and the Middle East
without first having to truck them to airports in Chicago, New York or Columbus, Ms. Cassotis said.
That’s not only a bonus for firms located here, but it could help to entice other companies looking for easy access to Europe and the Middle East to distribute their products.
“We’re definitely going to use it as a recruiting tool,” Ms. Cassotis said. “This benefits the region in a big way. This goes way beyond the airport.”
Qatar plans to transport 200 tons of cargo to and from Pittsburgh each week. The route will take it from Doha to Luxembourg to Atlanta and then Pittsburgh. The return flight will stop in Luxembourg and Doha.
On the Pittsburgh end, the pressure to produce will be immense.
The agreement with Qatar is for only one year. In addition, the airport paid “significant” money to entice the airline to begin the service. Ms. Cassotis refused to divulge the amount.
Authority officials are already paying $800,000 over two years to Wow Air to fly between Pittsburgh and Iceland. It also is shelling out $500,000 over two years for Condor Airlines’ seasonal flight to Frankfurt, Germany.
“We’re going to work really hard to make sure this works,” Ms. Cassotis said of the cargo flight.
George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting, a Fairfax, Va., aviation consulting firm, said landing the Qatar service is a “real coup” for Pittsburgh.
He said most international freighter service is concentrated in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, DallasFort Worth, California, and Seattle.
“It puts Pittsburgh on the map. It says that someone who is pretty savvy in the way they do business thinks this is a good place for international logistics operations,” he said. “Someone is voting with their feet and pocketbook to do this.”
But he stressed that Pittsburgh must deliver.
“If the traffic doesn’t materialize as planned, it will go away,” he said.
He suspects the airport authority already has potential customers and freight forwarders, who are responsible for getting products to their destination, lined up for the flight.
The authority, Ms. Cassotis said, is targeting potential shippers within 500 miles of Pittsburgh.
It is hoping to parlay the flight into the creation of a “logistics center” at Pittsburgh International, taking advantage of the airport’s foreign trade zone status to attract companies interested in assembling and shipping products duty free overseas.
Of course, one big shipper is Amazon, which announced last week that it plans to build a second headquarters somewhere in North America with the promise of 50,000 well-paying jobs and $5 billion in investment. Pittsburgh is among many cities scrambling to put together a bid to attract the e-commerce giant.
While the second headquarters would not be a warehouse operation, having an international cargo flight in Pittsburgh certainly doesn’t hurt the region’s standing, Ms. Cassotis said. Amazon has a warehouse in the city’s West End near Crafton.
“Qatar investing in us, this is a choice,” she said. “They get to go anywhere they want and they picked us.”
The city already has a connection to Qatar in Carnegie Mellon University, which has a branch campus in Doha, the country’s capital.
Pittsburgh will be only one of 17 destinations in North, Central, and South America served by Qatar Airways Cargo. It will be only one of four in the network served exclusively with a Boeing 777 freighter.
Qatar currently transports more than 100 tons of cargo a week to Philadelphia in the belly of an Airbus A350, but that is a passenger flight — not one devoted exclusively to cargo, as is the Pittsburgh service.
Pittsburgh International airlines, including FedEx and UPS, hauled nearly 11.2 million pounds of cargo into and out of the airport in July, the most recent month available. That’s down 2.3 percent from last July. Year to date, they have transported nearly 83 million pounds, down 1.3 percent over the same period last year.
The new flight shows just how interconnected the world has become, Mr. Hamlin said.
“Who would have dreamed 20 years ago a service between Pittsburgh and Doha?” he asked.
“It puts Pittsburgh on the map. It says that someone who is pretty savvy in the way they do business thinks this is a good place for international logistics operations. Someone is voting with their feet and pocketbook to do this.” — George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting
Qatar Airways will start twice-weekly cargo service to and from Pittsburgh on Oct. 11.