Qatar Airways Cargo never sleeps – in the midst of flying wild animals to South Africa, relief goods to India, and preparing to take delivery of more new freighters, Qatar Airway’s Senior Vice President of Sales and Network Planning, Kirsten de Bruijn, took time out to talk to CargoForwarder Global in more detail not just about the recent “Rewild the Planet” lions transport and the company’s ingrained social responsibility, but also about her own “Big Five”: in this case, her five pillar strategy for business in 2021.
“‘Get it done tomorrow!’ That state of mind: decision – BOOM! – ‘we’re going to get this done!’. That is what I love about working for this airline.” Kirsten de Bruijn “hit the ground, running” when she joined Qatar Airways Cargo back in SEP20. It was “game on” from the start, given the extraordinary pandemic situation and the major effects it was having on airline operations. “We were re-modelling the mini-freighters* in NOV20. In DEC20, we were preparing for the 3 additional aircraft,” Kirsten reels off the additional activities and explains that preparing Chapter 2 of WeQare, “Rewild the planet”, was straight away one of the first topics on her desk when she took up her new role as Senior Vice President of Sales and Network Planning.
Working together for a better world. Video: Qatar Airways Cargo/Lemon Queen
We discuss the lion transport video produced by Lemon Queen. Kirsten underlines the passion of everyone involved in the highly complex transport, and the close interaction between the handling, charter, operations, and live animals teams. The message is clear: “Rewild the Planet” is not simply a campaign. Along with topics such as sustainability, it is here to stay and become an integral part of the company’s DNA. What is meant by DNA? People. Kirsten illustrates the closely-knit employee structure, with teams operating 24/7 across the globe, and is convinced its people are at the core of Qatar Airways Cargo’s success. The key to prosperity is “operating as a small airline, but being able to carry big cargo!” By that, she means that the company holds true to its values originally set up when it started out: “We manage things very thoroughly so that we can still operate as though we have 5 freighters, but we have way more**. We are very integrated and have a very flat organization, so that helps.”
… and the Lions
The Ukrainian NGO, Warriors of Wildlife (WOW), reached out to Qatar Airways Cargo in OCT20 already, having rescued 7 lions from various private owners in intense rescue operations over the past couple of years. The original plan was to fly them to a safe, more natural location within the next two months, and intricate planning began. “We don’t operate structurally to Kiev, so we needed to make sure that we had seamless connection times with very little waiting times for the animals, and the right time of arrival in JNB in order to transport them beyond,” she explains. Permits were required, flights connections organized, tailored handling and operational processes established, and clever planning to create the least stressful environment. Why did the process take 6 months in the end? The flights were rebooked three times, Kirsten discloses, and the reason was the delay in the NGO receiving permits to travel – possibly down to the ongoing lockdowns and partly closed government departments. In the end, it worked out and on 29APR21, the lions set off in purpose-built and elaborately tied-down cages in the lower-deck of a mini-freighter from Kiev to Doha, landing at 16:30. Just 3.5 hours later, having been checked, watered, and fed 30 kg of meat, they continued in the lower deck of a regular, scheduled passenger A350 flight to Johannesburg. “We moved that passenger flight to the animal facility on the cargo side, and we made the passengers take the long bus-ride to the plane, because we wanted the animals to not have a long ramp transport! Who does that?!,” Kirsten emphasizes, pointing out that priority was given to ensuring that the lions had as stress-free a journey as possible. When they landed in Johannesburg, they traveled with their four caretakers by truck to the two nature reserves near Port Elizabeth.
Oxygen for India and donated capacities
The discussion moves on to the recent India relief transports. 300 tons of mostly oxygen supplies were recently flown to Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore for free, with another 300 tons of British government donated goods currently being moved, too. Kirsten outlines the speed at which the first three flights could be put together and expresses her amazement at the many shippers and freight forwarders from Europe, Asia, and the US that were willing to help so quickly when Qatar Airways Cargo put out the India relief initiative. “We see a movement of all of our customers and all of our shippers really wanting to participate in WeQare. I literally had a few days to organize those flights, and if you see how quickly the customers responded and got that cargo to DOH to send to India: it was absolutely a team effort of the entire logistics supply chain. It was very emotional to see, to be honest. The donations that we got: it was unbelievable!” Qatar Airways Cargo has declared that it will continue the free-of-charge transport for embassies sending to India throughout the month of MAY21, limited to 10 tons/station/week.
The “Big Five”
I ask about Qatar Airways Cargo’s position as Number One in the world, and Kirsten is quick to point out: “Yes, being number one is a big thing, but staying number one is another issue!” The company is not ready to sit on its laurels. “We received 3 new freighters in January this year, which never happened before: 3 planes from Boeing at the same time. We’re getting another 2 in the next 6-8 days.” The focus is not simply on being the biggest, but the best, she points out. With the final 2 freighters, the company’s fleet growth will be complete, and its strategy is now to concentrate on being best in class, to ensure customer loyalty also once the pandemic is over and competition returns as normal. “I have a 5-pillar strategy for 2021”, she details. The “Big Five” are Quality, Customer Centricity, Products and Services, Digital future, and Set an Example. The latter is the thread that runs through WeQare and the previous four categories. “We can be the leader, but we need to be leading,” Kirsten emphasizes. All that boils down to being extremely close to the customer, being easy to deal with - also digitally, selling and marketing USPs and special services correctly, being efficient, cost-effective, reliable, and ultimately coming out of the pandemic more sustainable and with even higher quality than before. The plans are on the table, the implementation will follow. And what about the next step in WeQare, I ask her? “Chapter 3 is almost done, so stay tuned!,” she smiles, enigmatically.
*Qatar’s description of preighters: passenger aircraft with the seats removed
** 28 freighters in total, now: 26 777F, 2 747F – in addition to 6 777 mini-freighters and the belly capacity of the Qatar Airways passenger fleet.
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