International Cargo Deal Highlights the Need for Speed

A Sri Lankan shipper chose Pittsburgh as its next major cargo distribution point – here’s why

By Bob Kerlik

Published July 22, 2019

Read Time: 3 mins


Last week’s announcement that Sri-Lanka-based EFL would begin shipping cargo through Pittsburgh International Airport was great news for the region, but it also raised the obvious question:

Why Pittsburgh?

The short answer is speed. Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis cited PIT’s ability to unload cargo quickly and efficiently, get it on trucks and send it on its way within two hours of the plane’s arrival.

“We are always looking for innovative solutions to differentiate the service and bring efficiency to their supply chain. In that sense, Pittsburgh is a logical gateway,” said EFL Group CEO Sethil Shanmugam. “The main gateways, Chicago or New York, they might unload the aircraft in a few hours, but to [get it off the airport] it might take you a day or two sometimes.”

Supply chain diversification is key, Cassotis said.

“These guys are never going to give up on the big markets,” she said. “Nobody would ever ask them to only concentrate on Pittsburgh because there’s a lot of scale at New York and Chicago. But it’s nice to have some diversification in that supply chain and to know there is always another opportunity.”

In for the long haul

EFL, a global freight forwarding company, is partnering with Qatar Airways Cargo to use PIT as its next major North American distribution point.

Qatar Cargo has been flying twice weekly flights into PIT since October 2017 on a Boeing 777. In late May, EFL began shipping approximately 90 tons per week on one of the Qatar flights. The contents have been mostly textiles, but Shanmugam said that could expand to other products as the service grows.

“I have no doubt we’ll continue to expand and that will happen in time,” he said.



Pittsburgh International renewed an incentive agreement with Qatar that runs through September, but Qatar is dedicated to Pittsburgh for the long haul because of the logistical advantage the airport provides its customers, said Peter Penseel, senior vice president of cargo sales and network planning at Qatar Airways.

“The starting point is always, how can we do things differently and add value?” Penseel said. “That brought us to make a decision to schedule the flights into Pittsburgh. … We want to make it a success and even want to make it bigger than even what we thought starting it two years ago.

“I think we are proving it together with the cooperation and with the transit time. I think in general 2, 2½ hours in every airport they can offload an aircraft, but to get throughput to the warehouse and the ground handling facility, and the dedication, nobody can compete versus Pittsburgh at the moment.”

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said an expanded cargo industry means more jobs and increased economic impact for the Pittsburgh region. It’s also a new industry for Pittsburgh. Even during the heyday of the US Airways hub, there was not a dedicated international freighter service.

“The success of Qatar Airways, and the partnership with EFL, strengthens our ability to attract manufacturing and distribution to the airport,” Fitzgerald said. “We are planting the seeds for manufacturing, distribution, logistics and connectivity in the global marketplace. We are excited to see it bear much fruit in the years to come, and to see the growth of jobs in these areas continue.”

The Qatar Airways Cargo flights to Pittsburgh provide $42.8 million of annual economic output for the Pittsburgh region, supporting 265 additional jobs within the region, according to a study performed by EDRG in 2018.


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