We reported in an earlier issue of CargoForwarder Global on plans by Nairobi-based Astral Aviation to introduce unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into their operations in order to develop the delivery of air cargo into very remote regions. As far as we know those plans still exist. We take the opportunity however of looking a little closer at Astral’s operations and future plans.
Growing quietly but steadily
Compared to other carriers in the region, Astral Aviation’s fleet is very modest.
Four aircraft, of which two are B747-400 freighters leased from Air Atlanta Icelandic and two pretty old Douglas DC9 freighters with an average age of 43 years. There are still a Fokker 27 and a Boeing 727F on their books, but it is not clear how much they are presently used.
But it seems that business is going well and that the carrier’s founder and present CEO, Sanjeev Gadhia is positive on the airline’s future and has many plans in his drawer. He was born in Kenya but studied in India and the UK and started his career in the banking and finance sectors before branching into aviation where he started Astral Aviation. In the early days most of the work carried out by Astral concentrated on carrying relief goods to various African regions.
In the meantime, the carrier operates ad-hoc and scheduled services to almost 50 destinations in the region along with the B747F flights to London Stansted and Liege carrying produce and flowers and general cargo on the return sectors.
Future expansion on the cards
Mr Gadhia and his team are convinced that there are still many opportunities for a small and flexible carrier such as Astral Aviation to develop their business model further in Africa.
African carriers are not having an easy time. One exception being Ethiopian Airlines, who with strict management control and planning have established themselves as Africa’s number one airline. This however does not mean that other existing or new entrants in the region should not have a chance to prove themselves.
Astral Aviation under Mr Gadhia’s directive is also said to be planning a new fleet of freighters in order to be more competitive. The head office in Nairobi is supplemented by offices in other African states such as Uganda, Somalia, Rwanda and Mozambique. Latest information is that Astral plans to open two new hubs in South and Western Africa and that the company will introduce Boeing 767 and 737 freighters into the fleet by the end of this year.
A visionary approach which has so far brought Astral Aviation to the forefront in regional African services. The plans for the drone cargo delivery are still actual although there is a long way to go before that scheme will come about.
It has often been lamented that foreign carriers have too much domination in Africa. Maybe companies such as Astral Aviation can do more to bring the balance a little more in Africa’s favour.
John Mc Donagh