Astral Aviation Soars in Africa’s Expanding Cargo Market

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While the African aviation industry battles a crisis that is fuelled by suspension of passenger services due to COVID-induced shutdowns and cross-border restrictions, an upsurge in demand for cargo flights has helped Nairobi-based airline, Astral Aviation to record the best annual results in its 20-year history during 2020, according to CEO Sanjeev Gadhia as quoted by Routes online.

We carried the highest amount of cargo ever and our revenues were significantly better compared to previous years,” Gadhia said.

I’m truly grateful that we had this opportunity when the rest of the aviation industry was on its knees—but it’s something we had to do.

Africa is the most disconnected continent in the world, and we wanted to make sure that we were getting to as many destinations as possible, whether to carry vaccines, e-commerce cargo or PPE. We made a commitment that no country in Africa would be left behind.”

After a year of some of the biggest disruptions ever to the global aviation industry, which has seen international borders close and travel hit by on again off again state border closures, a more hard-nosed industry is emerging with Gadhia revealing that the air cargo market in Africa is primed for a “very high level of growth” over the coming years following the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and new trade flows that have emerged since the onset of the pandemic.

It will mean that African countries will start trading more with each other—currently only about 30% of the continent’s trade is intra-Africa, this will have a very big impact on the air cargo market and so we’re very optimistic about the growth of the sector,” Gadhia said speaking at TakeOff Cargo.

Today, Astral Aviation continues to tighten its grip on intra-African market through the various opportunities created by the AFCFTA. Gandhia reveals that the airline is eyeing more network connectivity to airports in Western Africa including setting up a hub in Togo. The airline will also increase its network connectivity in southern Africa, with Gadhia adding that 70% of its expansion would be intra-Africa.

In addition to flying within its home continent, Astral Aviation is also exploring expansion opportunities in the Middle East and Asia. The carrier commenced a Nairobi (NBO)-Dubai Al Maktoum (DWC)-Hong Kong (HKG) route in early July and will “very shortly” begin service to Tel Aviv.

Hong Kong is very important to us because it’s a gateway, but we’re also looking at flying to new airports in China. If any Chinese airports would like to reach out to us, please feel free to do so. We’re going to have a very major expansion into China in the second half of this year going into 2022,” Gadhia noted.

Astral is among the airlines signed up to UNICEF’s Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative – dedicated to supporting the prioritization of delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, essential medicines, medical devices and other critical supplies in response to the pandemic.

The airline currently operates a fleet of six aircraft, including two Boeing 727-200Fs, one 747-400F and one 767-200F. In May, the carrier signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Airlines to foster cooperation in the humanitarian sector.


By Victor Shalton Odhiambo

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