EXCLUSIVE – TNT Airways and Qatar Airways to Liaise?

Talks between both parties for closely cooperating or even merging have been going on for months. The outcome of these negotiations is expected to be presented before the next federal Belgian elections take place in spring.  


Could soon join forces – TNT Airways and Qatar Airways Cargo  / sources: TNT / hs

This would be a real game changer in European air freight, provided TNT Airways and QR Cargo come to terms. The negotiations between both parties which have lasted for two years got an additional kick last fall when Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, a native of Liege in Belgium’s French speaking Walloon province, flew to Doha to push this ambitious project further forward. Shortly afterwards, in December he was followed by Walloon’s Minister of Economy Jean-Claude Marcourt who urged Qatar Airways to possibly double its operation at Liege Bierset Airport from currently four weekly arrivals and departures to eight or even more.

 

Well advanced negotiations
Meanwhile, these diplomatic missions by the Belgian politicians have obviously begun to bear fruit. Internal sources indicated to CargoForwarder Global that talks between QR Cargo and TNT Airways are well advanced, including even aspects of aligning ground handling activities by contracting a single service provider. Although the entire case is kept as a closely guarded secret, Belgian aviation experts told CFG that a deal seeing QR Cargo taking over up to 49 percent in TNT Airways’ stakes is the most likely solution both sides are aiming at. “TNT Airways’ Managing Director Niky Terzakis is currently working hard to try and convince sufficient private Belgian investors to take over the 51 percent in TNT Airways needed for securing a Belgian AOC,” said a source. “If he succeeds it would be Niky’s masterpiece before he retires at the end of this year,” the voice added.

 

According to communication manager Cyrille Gibot of TNT Express their flying unit operates a fleet of 50 freighter aircraft, among them three Boeing 777Fs, two 747-400ERFs, four 757Fs, with the rest consisting of smaller 737Fs and BAe146s. QR Cargo has five Boeing 777Fs and three Airbus A330Fs in its fleet, with firm orders for additional five A330Fs standing in the books.

Niky Terzakis  /  source: hs
Niky Terzakis / source: hs

Will Liege become a new powerhouse in cargo?
Provided, both players agree in joining forces, whatever the financial and legal basis might be, it would radically change the European cargo landscape. They would become the by far largest provider of main deck capacity with Liege Bierset Airport becoming their central European hub. It’s an advantageous place, located close to the highly industrialized German Ruhr area, offering airlines 24/7/365 access since no night flight ban exists. In an earlier statement given to CargoForwarder Global Liege’s Head of Marketing Eric Gysen confirmed that QR Cargo is keeping a close eye on his airport that is home of TNT’s fleet, because “we are not slot restricted and open around the clock, assuring our clients utmost flexibility for their operation.”


Commenting on this issue a Belgian aviation expert estimates that QR Cargo will not only use Liege as production platform but utilize TNT’s fleet as a vehicle to penetrate different European markets. How this will be linked with the transport demand of integrator TNT Express remains to be seen.
The same question came up at the end of 2012 when the package delivery company tried to sell off the entire fleet of its subsidiary TNT Airways to the Irish headquartered ASL Aviation Group. Shortly after however, TNT had to push the reset button when being informed by the EU Commission that the intended merger with UPS was rejected by Brussels’ watchdogs for competitive reasons. 


With the Qatar Cargo deal appearing on the horizon the Walloon politicians Reynders and Marcourt might soon be able to show how negotiations can be concluded successfully. The much hoped for joining of TNT Airways and QR Cargo would predominantly help Liege Airport to gain additional attractiveness as a fast-evolving cargo player. The inking of the deal shortly before the national elections are being held on 25th of May would supposedly be very welcomed by the Walloon voters.
But will all this happens as the Walloon government hopes?
There are a few relevant questions still pending.

Didier Reynders  /  source: Mouvement Réformateur
Didier Reynders / source: Mouvement Réformateur

What real long term benefit would Qatar Airways get out of such a deal? Are there additional traffic rights to be obtained for QR in such a constellation?


Admittedly, TNT express has an extensive European trucking and logistics network which can be tapped into by QR, thereby increasing their already streamlined customer service even further.
Some sources say that the UPS involvement, which went belly up last year, is not yet off the books and that both UPS and Fedex still have an interest in getting back into bed with TNT. The original idea between the UPS/TNT deal was that TNT Express shed themselves of their freighter fleet by leasing it back to ASL. This could not happen with an assumed TNT/QR tie-up. Or could it?
Qatar Airways is internally under pressure to make good for the deal which went wrong with Cargolux. However, the TNT Board Meeting to be held on 9. April will also be a deciding factor. The agenda of this meet so far does not give any indication of such a deal.
Still some homework to be done before the elections!

 

Heiner Siegmund  /  John Mc Donagh