A good mood prevails at the cargo airline’s headquarters in Jeddah. Quietly, the Middle East carrier has taken the pole as flower carrier on trade lanes linking Kenya with Europe. A weekly freighter flight between Nairobi and Frankfurt operated since mid-October has consolidated the leading position for the Jeddah-based carrier.
Saudi Cargo’s VP Commercial Rainer Muller is a fact-oriented pragmatist who has little time for phraseology or high-blown concepts. However, when speaking about his company’s Kenya operations he
becomes emotional for a short moment, proudly pointing out with sparkling eyes how well these services run. “From day one the capacity of our Boeing 747-400F which we utilize on the northbound
route NBO-FRA was completely sold out,” he enthuses. Adding to this that the onward flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg via Jeddah is also doing extremely well, showing an average load factor
of a remarkable 90 percent.
Chapeau. Not bad for a newly introduced service.
Including the new FRA flight, Saudia Cargo operates eight all-cargo roundtrips Europe-Africa-Europe per week, all of them routed via Nairobi on their way back to supply European markets with fresh flowers stemming from local Kenyan producers. After their arrival in Amsterdam, Brussels, Milan or Frankfurt, the consignments are distributed by truck throughout Europe, including the UK. “These flower shuttles are a flourishing and very stable business,” emphasizes Mr Muller.
He further underscores the fact that the newly introduced Frankfurt-Jeddah-Jo’burg flight is a door opener for his airline to capture a viable market share on that southbound route. “We are confident that shippers and their forwarding agents will increasingly utilize our capacity,” he says, emphasizing again that the first couple of weeks had been very satisfying in terms of tonnage and revenue.
In total, the Middle East carrier operates between 15 and 16 weekly freighter flights in and out of Europe, depending on demand. Eight of these all-cargo flights are routed via Saudia Arabia to Johannesburg, while the other four stop at Ndjamena (Chad), Kano (Nigeria) and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) from where they transit to Nairobi before returning, and jammed with flowers, to Europe.
Number one in the Middle East
In addition to its strong position in Europe, Africa and its home market in the Middle East (“we are the number one cargo carrier there,” Muller), Saudia Cargo is flying its flag also in China, shown by seven weekly freighter flights to Hong Kong which are complemented by three Guangzhou operations. This is rounded off by four Dacca, Bangladesh freighter services each week and one flight to Mumbai, India.
The USA in contrast, hasn’t become a hotspot yet, shown by a single nonstop Jeddah-New York (JFK) flight per week.
Partnering with local GSA has proven its worth
Touching organizational and sales issues Mr Muller states that in key markets like Europe, South Africa, Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and some others “we have our own regional directors that are overseeing and steering the business.” Responsible for filling the main decks of the freighter fleet and the lower deck compartments of the passenger jetliners with consignments day after day are local sales agents. According to him, this scheme will basically be maintained, although there might be adoptions should efficiency gains be the outcome of structural changes.
Are adjustments ahead?
Another indication that wheels have been set in motion is the carrier’s decision to concentrate their entire European activities in Frankfurt. Whether this will result in changes of sales structures, capacity steering processes or new distributions of revenue management tasks, as expected by local market observers, remains to be seen. For the time being, the officials in Jeddah remain tight-lipped when being asked to shed light on this matter.