Wow: Qatar Airways Is The Largest Air Cargo Operator

In an exclusive interview with Simple Flying last week, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker revealed the airline is now the largest cargo operator in the world. This comes after the airline flew through the pandemic, making cargo the key focus. Let’s find out more about how Qatar Airways has leaped ahead of other dedicated cargo airline giants.

Qatar Airways Cargo
One of the reasons Qatar sustained flying through the pandemic was by filling aircraft bellies with cargo. Photo: Qatar Airways

Freight capacity data in this article is from IATA’s World Air Transport Statistics and Air Cargo News. Data for 2020’s cargo capacity will be available by IATA in mid-July.

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Number one

Qatar Airways’ rise to the top of the cargo market has been a meteoric one. The airline has been growing its capacity drastically since 2014, seeing a growth of 117% in terms of scheduled FTKs (freight tonne-kilometers). From 5,997 FTKs in 2014 to 13,024 FTKs in 2019, no other airline has seen such sustained growth at this scale.

However, 2020 marked another milestone for Qatar Airways: it has become the world’s largest cargo operator. Speaking in an exclusive interview with Simple Flying, CEO Akbar Al Baker confirmed that Qatar Airways is currently the world’s largest cargo operator, and by quite a margin.

Qatar airways boeing 777 freighter 777F
Qatar Airways added three new 777Fs at the end of last year to bolster freight capacity. Photo: Qatar Airways

During the interview, Mr. Al Baker said,

“Today in the industry, Qatar Airways is the largest cargo operator in the world today. Likewise, when we were also the largest airline vis a vis the ASK. Just to give you an example. We operate 40% More frequencies and 28 more destinations than our closest rival…This happens on many other destinations where our average load factor is 40%, but we tried to cover our operating costs by making sure that we have adequate cargo to carry on our airplanes.”


The story of the passenger and cargo demand has been an opposing one through this pandemic. As airlines canceled due to lack of demand and travel restrictions, cargo capacity dropped substantially. This is because half of global air freight traffic is transported in the belly of passenger planes, rather than dedicated freighters.

Qatar Airways seized on this gap in cargo supply during the pandemic, using its freighter and passenger fleet to transport as much as possible, even during the worst days of the pandemic. This had the dual benefit of repatriating millions of stranded travelers and taking them to their home countries (which the airline saw as a responsibility) and generating much-needed revenue to survive the crisis.

Qatar Airbus A350
Even if Qatar Airways only saw a few passengers on its flights, the cargo hold was filled with freight on nearly all flights. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

While exact figures of Qatar’s freight traffic in 2020 will be available next month, the airline has undoubtedly been busy. As the airline extends its reach to 150 destinations this summer, expect to see these cargo figures hold up in the future too. For now, Qatar can add the title of busiest cargo airline in the world to its mantle.

What do you think about Qatar Airways’ rise in cargo traffic? Let us know in the comments!