Air­port lands Qatar Air­ways for cargo flight

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front page - By Mark Belko

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

Michael Probst/As­so­ciated Press

Qatar Air­ways will start twice-weekly cargo ser­vice to and from Pitts­burgh on Oct. 11.

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