A little late to the official “Preighter” Party, but an entrance with style as Kenya Airways (KQ) becomes the first airline to completely repurpose a Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” to carry cargo. MRO-provider, Avianor, supervised the modifications, and the first “Dreamliner” has just received air worthiness approval, both from the KCAA and the FAA.
Together with Canadian MRO-provider, Avianor, Kenya Airways made history by being the first to repurpose a Boeing 787 as a “Preighter”. The cabin-repurposing was carried out over DEC20 and JAN21, and a mini-film on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/posts/kenya-airways_kq-cargo-preighter-repurposing-activity-6762939252629110784-EKkb) neatly summarizes the efforts, hashtagged #theweightisover: a play on words that draws attention to the fact that this has happened over 9 months into the pandemic and a half-year after other airlines repurposed various other aircraft types for the same reason. That said, given the ongoing crisis, “preighters” are predicted to be around for some time yet, as forecasts vary between a return to more normal passenger operations by mid-2022 to end-2024.
“This joint effort,” the press release reads, “is in response to the growing demand and need for increased cargo capacity. Kenya Airways is prepared to respond to the ongoing demand for essential and medical goods and supporting future commercial opportunities thereby contributing to the stimulation of the local and regional economies.”
Naturally, when loading the aircraft, the weight should not be over! The repurposed B787 cabin is certified to carry up to 16 tons of cargo, bringing the overall maximum payload of the aircraft operating as a cargo plane to 46 tons.
“We are excited to be part of the first ever certified cargo conversion of this type on the Boeing 787 aircraft. It demonstrates our agility, innovation and quick thinking, as well as increases our cargo capability and capacity to keep essential goods moving across the globe. Kenya Airways will keep playing its role as
a catalyst for economic growth in the continent, by connecting the world to Africa, and Africa to the world for both our Cargo and Passenger customer segments,” Allan Kilavuka, Group Managing Director & CEO, Kenya Airways, stated.
A greater emphasis on cargo, in a competitive world
In SEP20, he announced that Kenya Airways planned to up its cargo operations to 20% of its business, (even hinting at acquiring B777F in the longer term), effectively doubling the 7-10% of overall income cargo was generating for the airline at the time, and going some way to alleviating the USD 300 million losses the company was projected to make in 2020.
Kenya Airways did already employ some of its Boeing 787 aircraft for pure cargo flights last year, with the difference that, with the aircraft seats still in place, the extra space for cargo was not only limited, it was also more tricky to load and unload. In fact, PML, a leading perishable cargo specialist, chartered a KQ B787 for two weekly flights between Nairobi and London-Heathrow from 18NOV20 through to DEC20, and is in line to use the repurposed B787, soon, too. The non-repurposed B787 were also used for flights to other European destinations, along with Asia and Middle East, given that Kenya Airways’ existing two B737-300 freighters were not ideal for covering such distances.
One done, one more to go
So far, two of Kenya Airways’ nine Dreamliners were set for repurposing and the airline chose DRAKKAR Aerospace & Ground Transportation affiliate, Avianor – a Canadian company with 25 years’ experience in MRO, to oversee the adaptions.
“Avianor’s team has been pioneering the main deck temporary cargo repurposing process in response to the need for rapid increase in air freight cargo capacity at the onset of the pandemic. We are very excited to now be working with Kenya Airways to adapt this solution for their 787 aircraft. This represents a
unique design and certification challenge, and we are thrilled to demonstrate, once again, our ability to find unprecedented solutions to customer needs,” Matthieu Duhaime, President and CEO Avianor, commented.
In time for Valentine’s?
A recent Bloomberg article addressed the impending annual capacity crunch with the approach of Valentine’s Day on 14FEB21, when required freight capacities more than double to 5,500 tons in the week running up to that date, thus an additional 3,000 tons need sourcing. The pandemic adds an additional problem to the equation this year, given that 70% of Kenyan flower exports travel via Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, which – like a number of neighboring markets – currently has Covid-19 restrictions. That said, Ethiopian Airlines has been accorded permission to fly extra freighters on the Nairobi-Amsterdam route to ease capacity constraints, and local carrier, Astral Aviation, has announced inaugural flower flights to Dubai and Saudi Arabia in these two weeks, along with doubling its freighter services to Europe.
Will Kenya Airways’ first Preighter which was completed last month and is due to begin cargo flights very soon having since received air worthiness approval from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCCA) and Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), be able to participate in the flower rush or have those capacities already been covered?
Praise from the KCAA
“As passenger numbers are at an all-time low, airlines have had to look for alternative means of revenue to stay afloat. This project is economically significant as it will retain and create new jobs as well as support Kenya Airways in its recovery efforts to diversify revenues. More importantly, with the upcoming vaccination distribution, Kenya Airways has readily positioned itself to transport the vaccines destined for Africa and other destinations, therefore creating a considerable advantage for the airline and its safe operations” Captain Gilbert Kibe, Director General Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), said, praising Kenya Airways for its move to offer extra cargo capacity to a market strapped for space as the pandemic continues to keep most passenger aircraft on the ground.
Much needed cash
Yet, the situation is not ideal. Local voices on Twitter and LinkedIn bemoan KQ’s high cargo rates, point to the strong competition operating out of Nairobi (14 other cargo carriers, including local champion Astral Aviation, a strong Ethiopian Airlines, Gulf heavyweights such as Qatar Airlines Cargo and Emirates Sky Cargo, and a number of other large international stakeholders), and bitterly refer to the huge cut in jobs at the airline over the past months. Kenya Airways has consistently flown in losses since 2013, and announced in AUG20, that it would be down-sizing due to the pandemic, immediately starting to cut 40% of its workforce – around 1,500 staff out of a total of 3,734 – given that salaries accounted for 20% of its expenditures. It is therefore questionable as to how many jobs the repurposing of two B787s will retain or create. An ongoing worry for the airline which celebrated its 44th Birthday on 22JAN21.
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