Qatar Airways has just operated what is likely to be the shortest freighter flight ever. The cargo branch of the Qatari airline flew 24 miles from the Netherlands to Belgium taking just nine minutes. But this isn’t a one-off. The airline has more of these trips scheduled for the coming days for its Boeing 777.
Opposition to the route
Qatar Airways decided to add an additional stop on 3rd November 2019 during a routine cargo flight from Doha to Mexico City. The airline stopped in Maastricht to cater for a new Dutch client before flying onto Liege in Belgium.
Whilst it’s not the shortest flight in operation, with the likes of United operating 18-mile flights, the service beats the other legs of its route by quite some measure. The service’s leg from Doha to Maastricht takes over six hours. Then from Liege to Mexico City it’s another 12 hours.
However, at just nine minutes long, flight QR8173 could be the shortest cargo flight. But the route is not making for glowing headlines. Instead, the airline has been slated for its bad environmental impact.
A Municipal Councillor in Liege called the flight a “veritable ecological aberration”, according to Sudpresse. With irony, Pierre Eyben told the publication:
“There, I think we really beat a world record…Can we imagine the appalling carbon footprint of this plane jump? “
According to One Mile At A Time, Qatar Airways defended its decision. It said:
“A new Dutch client has requested us to have his cargo delivered at Maastricht Airport, for personal reasons…”
It went on to say that Maastricht Airport was not viable for its leg to Mexico City.
A personal cargo service
The airline did not divulge into what personal reasons might exempt this client from using other modes of transport. It’s just a 32-minute train ride from Maastricht to Liege or a one-hour five-minute car ride. Flying is hardly saving time.
Some people, however, have also been vocal in defending Qatar’s decision. They suggest that travel by train or truck would also have a big carbon footprint. But that’s not strictly true. Of course, we don’t know the size of the contents delivered to the Dutch client but if we assumed that it would take one lorry to deliver, we can estimate the carbon footprint.
Per metric tonne of freight and kilometer of distance, the freighter plane will create around 500g CO2 emissions, of course depending on the model. By comparison, a truck might create 60-150g and a train around 30-100g, according to this source. As the aviation world begins to make tracks in becoming carbon neutral, details of this flight don’t work in Qatar Airways’ favor.
We asked Qatar Airways for more details of the personal cargo shipment but it was unavailable to answer, leaving us in the dark as to exactly how necessary this nine-minute flight was. We can only assume that this route was carefully calculated and the airline has the best interests at its heart.
Currently, this cargo route only shows future operations up to 10th November 2019 so it isn’t clear how long this route will continue.
The reason that Qatar Airways changed course was not only for its Maastricht client. The route is normally flown from Doha to Liege and then onto Mexico City. However, flying into Maastricht – a move that potentially makes more money than sense – does not allow Qatar Airways to get to its final destination. The runway in Maastricht is simply not long enough.
The route requires the extra 2,600 feet that Liege airport runway offers to get to Mexico City. For this reason, Qatar Airways has not changed its European stop from Belgium to the Netherlands. It needs them both.
Commercially smart or a carbon disaster? Let us know what you think of Qatar Airways’ flight in the comments.