Much is happening over at Qatar Airways Cargo. Liesbeth Oudkerk (LO) took over as its SVP Cargo Sales & Network a little over 9 months ago, so CargoForwarder Global (CFG) recently reached out to hear more about the airline’s developments since then: Next Generation, Kigali hub, digital endeavors, quality, and a personal touch.
CFG: You joined Qatar Airways Cargo during the launch of its Next Generation transformation. How have the past 9 months been for you? What were your initial responsibilities?
LO: The past 9 months at Qatar Airways Cargo have been both exciting and challenging. We respond to fluctuating market conditions by being highly agile in our freighter operations. We make necessary corrections to align with changing demands after the impact of Covid. When faced with lower demand in the U.S., we added stops in South America to maximize our network reach. I’m delighted to work with a team that is flexible and dedicated to finding optimal solutions for our customers. We prioritize tailor-made approaches over fixed schedules, enabling us to swiftly adapt to market demands.
My initial responsibilities as SVP Cargo Sales & Network involved overseeing sales and managing the freighter network at Qatar Airways Cargo. To better support our customers, we recognized the importance of digital transformation, making their experience seamless by providing easy access to quotes and booking options. This digitalization journey requires the support and dedication of the entire Qatar Airways team, ensuring that we make their work processes more efficient and customer-focused.
CFG: Where does Next Generation stand right now? What are the focus points for you and your team this year?
LO: Currently, ‘The Next Generation’ initiative by Qatar Airways Cargo stands as a transformative movement within the air cargo industry, bringing fresh and innovative perspectives to all aspects of the air cargo value chain. Key focal points for our team include enhancing products and services, harnessing cutting-edge technology, and emphasizing a commitment to sustainability and diversity. We are investing in the professional development of our existing talent and striving to attract new talent. Digital potential is another area of attention, aimed at addressing everyday challenges and fostering a significant shift in corporate mindset. This approach will permeate all areas of our network and operations, influencing how we approach our business overall, our technology, diversity, sustainability, employee development, and our range of products and services.
CFG: What particular parallels and differences would you highlight when it comes to having first worked for the world's oldest airline and now the world's largest cargo airline?
LO: Working for the world's oldest airline, KLM, and the world's largest cargo airline, Qatar Airways Cargo, offers unique insights into the aviation industry. Both share a commitment to customer experience and innovation, while Qatar Airways Cargo's primary focus on cargo operations sets it apart from KLM's passenger-centered approach. Although they differ in size, global reach, and market focus, I would say that their diverse cultural backgrounds and operational practices have offered me valuable perspectives on the broader aviation landscape. Overall, this combined experience has allowed me to gain a comprehensive understanding of the complexities and opportunities within the industry.
CFG: You jointly opened Kigali hub earlier this year with RwandAir - how is that going and what are the greatest learnings from the cooperation? Will we be seeing further international hubs in the next year? And any new destinations?
LO: As of now, Qatar Airways Cargo's Next Generation initiative is making significant strides in its expansion and improvement efforts. The partnership with Rwandair to launch the Kigali hub has been a great success. Kigali was chosen as it's one of the most progressive countries in Africa. Ahead of the launch, our subsidiary QAS Cargo, assisted RwandAir Cargo in enhancing its cargo handling performance. QAS Cargo's team visited RwandAir's facilities, providing a comprehensive action plan for operational improvements. They are currently collaborating on a future roadmap, focusing on enhancing the warehouse infrastructure as part of RwandAir's long-term strategic plan for its cargo division. Kigali is our first cargo hub outside of Qatar and is served by a Boeing 777 freighter from Doha twice a week. Our intra-Africa services, including flights between Kigali and Lagos three times per week, and a weekly service from Istanbul via Doha to Kigali operated by an Airbus A310 aircraft, have expanded our reach to smaller African destinations. While focusing on Kigali, we are open to exploring additional international hubs. Looking ahead, we are considering further expansions in Africa, recognizing the region's potential for growth and opportunities.
CFG: Qatar Airways Cargo will be hosting IATA's next Hackathon at the end of NOV23 - what led to this decision? And where do you see the greatest challenges in digital transformation for the air cargo industry?
LO: The decision to host the IATA Hackathon stems from Qatar Airways Cargo's commitment to innovation and digital transformation within the air cargo industry. As a forward-thinking organization, we continuously invest in advanced technology and solutions to enhance operational efficiency, visibility, and security, while improving overall performance. Digitalization is a core pillar of our Vision 2027 Strategy, and we are excited to collaborate with innovative minds to explore new business applications and generate exciting ideas for the industry.
Digital transformation presents several significant challenges that require careful consideration and proactive solutions. They include integrating legacy systems with modern digital solutions, ensuring data security and privacy in an increasingly digital environment, effectively managing change, and providing workforce training during the transformation process, encouraging customer adoption of digital platforms and new business practices to name but a few. Addressing these challenges requires a collaborative effort from all stakeholders in the air cargo industry. By working together, embracing innovation, and leveraging the potential of digital technologies, the industry can overcome these obstacles and unlock new levels of efficiency, transparency, and customer satisfaction.
CFG: Having completed all the CEIV certifications, what is next on Qatar Airways Cargo's agenda? What quality certification is the air cargo industry missing, in your view?
LO: We are very proud to be the first airline worldwide to have obtained the complete suite of IATA CEIV certifications, including CEIV Fresh, CEIV Lithium Batteries, CEIV Live Animals, CEIV Pharma, IEnvA registration, and United for Wildlife program. This sets a new industry benchmark for excellence.
In the air cargo industry, one quality certification that could be beneficial is a universally recognized and standardized certification specifically tailored to air cargo operations. While there are various quality management certifications available for general business operations (e.g., ISO 9001 for quality management systems), there isn't a comprehensive certification that addresses the unique challenges and requirements of air cargo transportation. Such a quality certification could encompass aspects like cargo handling procedures, security measures, compliance with international regulations, environmental sustainability practices, and customer service standards. To implement such a certification, collaboration among industry stakeholders, including airlines, freight forwarders, airports, and regulatory bodies, would be essential. It would require developing and adopting common standards that reflect best practices and address the diverse challenges of air cargo operations across different regions.
CFG: And lastly: How does Qatar Airways Cargo's SVP relax when she is outside of the office? What do you enjoy most life in Qatar?
LO: I like to unwind by spending time with friends and family. I also enjoy exploring the local culture and cuisine of Qatar. This country offers a unique blend of modernity and tradition, with a rich cultural heritage. I love the cosmopolitan atmosphere and because I’m a keen traveler I find its strategic location makes it a gateway to travel to various destinations around the world.
Thank you, Liesbeth Oudkerk
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