The grounding of many passenger airlines worldwide, has also badly hit the African continent, which similarly relied on passenger bellies for much of its cargo transportation. It has created a severe imbalance on routes, with PPE coming in from China, but next to nothing from Europe, and has led to a critical capacity shortage for perishables going out of Africa.
Pre-COVID-19, cargo capacities out of Nairobi, Kenya, were around 5,000t/week. Once the restrictions hit, passenger flights stopped and freighter operators also largely reduced or even stopped
their frequencies, leading to just 1,800t/week in capacity on the market in APR20, and a serious problem for a high perishables export market such as Kenya (especially vegetables for which demand
For Astral Aviation, as a full freighter airline with scheduled frequencies, it was not easy to immediately compensate for the dramatic drop in capacities, though there was a change in business structure with Astral flights operating schedules out of Africa and partly as charters coming back in. The need for coverage to those African countries especially badly hit by COVID-19 restrictions was an Astral focus then already.
Astral Aviation offering new intra-African freighter services
Now, it has announced new freighter services which will bring its African cargo freighter coverage out of Kenya up to 13 destinations in countries such as South Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia. From 25MAY20, Astral will operate to Lilongwe in Malawi and Lusaka in Zambia with a weekly frequency, and to Kismayo and Bosaso in Somalia.
Despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic, such as crew quarantine restrictions and airport turn-around limitations, Astral has focused on safe operations as per COVID-19 guidelines, and has brought PPE and other medical items via a number of charter flights to various African countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Eritrea, Burundi, Madagascar, Djibouti, Yemen, and Sudan – often regions that would otherwise have been cut-off from the rest of the world when it comes to import provisions.
2020 vision and experience
2020 is a special year for Astral Aviation, as it celebrates its 20th anniversary and looks back on accolades for “best all-cargo carrier in Africa” in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. In addition, its Founder and CEO, Sanjeev Gadhia, was welcomed to air cargo Africa advisory board last week – an event that he has supported ever since its debut in 2011. As he himself says, “air cargo Africa is the premier event for Air Cargo to, from and within Africa, and offers immense networking opportunities to all members of the air-cargo sector, but most importantly, it presents the opportunity to collaborate with African airlines, handlers, airports, forwarders and agents. The Conference offers an opportunity to learn about Africa's opportunities and challenges which enables knowledge sharing and empowerment.” The next air cargo Africa is scheduled to be held in South Africa from 09-11FEB21.
Next to having been rated “New Generation Leader for Africa” by the African Leadership Network in previous years, he is also Vice Chairman of AFRAA’s (African Airlines Association) Cargo Committee since 2016 and, in 2017, became the first Director from Africa to sit on TIACA (The International Air Cargo Association).
Fleet expansion to include 767Fs?
It looks as though an imminent fleet expansion is on the horizon, with the addition of 2 converted 767 freighters to add to its diverse fleet of 2 Boeing 747-400F, which it operates to Doncaster, UK, and Liege, Belgium with Network Airline Services, and a 2 Boeing B727-200F, 4 DC9-F, and 2 F-27 freighters, offering cargo services to over 50 destinations across Africa with total fleet capacities of between 6t and 110t. The first of those 767F is expected in the next few months.
Day of the World’s Largest Drone coming soon?
In a STAT Times webinar last month, Sanjeev Gadhia talked about his “favorite subject”, drones and an area his company Astral Aerial has been working on and has won awards for over the past few years. Special focus is on getting the largest drone in the world off the ground, especially now that Kenyan drone regulations are finally approved. “We are now […] accelerating our drone strategy,[…] and bringing in the largest drone in the world, which can carry 2,000 kgs of PPE a distance of about 1,300 km.” Drones can reach those areas off the grid, and ensure a PPE supply to even the most remote areas, and can operate cross-border too. No doubt, we will be hearing more on this soon.
Silver linings and learning from COVID-19?
In the same webinar, Sanjeev Gadhia pointed out that 80% of passenger travel to Africa is brought in on international airlines, and only 20% on African airlines. Cargo statistics are similar. The reshuffling in the crisis could lead to African airlines expanding their market share in traffic in future. He is happy to see carriers such as Ethiopian, SAA, RwandAir, and Kenya Airways take positive steps to employ passenger freighters currently and sees this as the African chance to “fully liberalize the cargo market,” though the revival of passenger flights and their belly space is clearly an urgent necessity, too.
The two learnings he takes away from the pandemic are “the need for agility, for flexibility, adaptive responses and to be able to change the way you do business at any given time,” as well as the fact that “survival of the fittest” is currently very true, and that this not only applies to the health of a company, but more importantly to personal health and the health of employees and their families.
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