Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) has been flying for 70 years; the member of the SkyTeam alliance has been in business longer than any of its Persian Gulf competitors. ITJ editor Andreas Haug spoke to Saudia Cargo deputy charter manager Semih Kutlug recently.
Mr Kutlug, how is Saudia Cargo’s business structured?
Scheduled services are at the heart of our activities, but we also operate numerous charter and part-charter flights, and naturally also make use of the belly-hold capacities on our passenger flights across Asia, Africa, Europe and the USA, reaching more than 225 international and 26 domestic destinations in our global network.
In which regions outside of the Arabian Peninsula am I most likely to see your freighters with the distinctive swords and date palm on the tail fin?
In Asia we fly to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Mumbai, in Africa we serve Johannesburg, Khartoum, Addis Ababa, Lagos and Nairobi, in the Middle East Sharjah, in Europe we land at Amsterdam, Brussels, Frankfurt and Milan, and finally, New York JFK in North America.
So South America isn’t represented in your network yet?
No, and establishing services there is currently not on our agenda either; but discussions regarding interline agreements continue with other airlines, which will enable us to serve the region.
How are Saudia’s freight volumes developing?
Our cargo volumes are growing, but pressure on profitability is high – not least on account of regional competition. The sluggish global economy, mainly in China, and the negative economic situation in Russia and Nigeria are making life difficult for us too. We’re doing our best to deploy our capacities at the service of our customers, however.
Saudia Cargo already has a rather large fleet, encompassing 17 full-freighters. Are you planning any further acquisitions, or the addition of new destinations?
Yes, our commercial team is always looking for new challenges and making studies to step into feasible new markets and add value to the company. The biggest change this year is our revamped market presence. Our new slogan perfectly encapsulates our ambitions – Saudia Cargo “aspires to cargo anything, anywhere, anytime” for our clients.
As a charter specialist you’re also involved in project cargo activities. Please tell us a bit about your know-how in the handling of oversized and heavy consignments.
Various types of wide-body freighters in our fleet, such as Boeing B747-8Fs, B747-400Fs and B777Fs, enable us to load oversize or overweight cargo such as drilling rigs, machinery, engines, bundle of plates or pipes, vehicles, and the like. Our nose-door B747Fs are particularly suitable for loading heavy-duty pallets such as 20 ft units, also with connectors, if needed, by crane or high-capacity fork-lift truck.
Many other carriers are also going for such diversification. What does Saudia Cargo do differently or better?
The mix in our fleet gives us flexibility to react to short-term charter needs. Over and above this we’ve gathered extensive experience over the years, which enables us to rapidly meet any commercial or operational requirements.
Your director Mike Duggan also heads the strategic partnership division. What is that in detail?
We live in an age of cooperation, so we continuously seek partnerships with other airlines to try to optimise the returns from each network for both sides.
Saudia joined SkyTeam in 2012 (but is not a member of SkyTeam Cargo). Does the alliance limit outside activities?
Not at all. We remain free to choose whatever strategic partner we’d like to work with.