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Great expectations should see East Africa’s air freight hubs flying

The Loadstar
Saturday February 4, 2023

By Keith Mwanalushi 


East African operators are keeping a close focus on intra-regional demand. Photo - NAC2000

Despite the general grim outlook for air freight, it seems intra-regional demand for shipments passing through the key hubs in East Africa – Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda – are set to pick up again.

That is, at least as far as capacity and investment trends reveal.

RwandAir’s first dedicated freighter, a converted 737-800, is now operational on services to Sharjah twice a week and a spokesperson at the airline told The Loadstar other planned freighter routes include Lusaka, Johannesburg, Lagos, Dar-es-Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Bangui, in Central African Republic, Nairobi, Entebbe and Brazzaville, in Congo.

The Kigali-based carrier plans to expand its cargo fleet and is eyeing the A330 as a future candidate for acquisition or lease.

Recent data from aviation analysts at IBA suggests converted A330 values [depending on age] are typically between $30m and $45m, with monthly lease rates of between $330k and $418k. Feedstock should still be good, due to large numbers of Rolls-Royce-powered aircraft delivered between 2008 and 2016.

Currently, RwandAir sees freight demand mostly for fresh goods like perishables and pharma shipments.

Since the arrival of Astral Aviation’s 757-200F last year, the Kenyan operator is using its 30-tonne capacity for uplift from DWC on scheduled and ad hoc charters  to Djibouti, Mogadishu and Khartoum, in addition to Nairobi and onwards to intra-African schedules, including South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Zambia.

The 757F complements a 767-200F at DWC as part of the company’s Middle East air freight solutions flying programme. Additionally, Astral operates 747-400 and 727 freighters.

A recent partnership with Air Logistics Group aims to promote Astral’s intra-African scheduled network of 50 destinations, which are served from its Nairobi hub, in addition to new point-to-point destinations from its Liege hub to Africa, said the carrier’s CEO, Sanjeev Gadhia, recently.

News that Ethiopian Airlines Group has partnered with MailAmericas should go down well for the region’s growing e-commerce ambitions. The Latin American e-commerce solution provider plans to work closer with Ethiopian to develop cross border e-commerce services within Africa and the Middle East; an advantageous position for Ethiopian’s Addis hub as a strong sorting and distribution centre.

A source at Ethiopian said this was the right time for airlines to start thinking about an e-commerce solution as a game-changer platform. Consequently, Ethiopian is building its own dedicated e-commerce warehouse, with a 150,000-tonne annual capacity worth an investment of $50m on a 15,000 sq metre area.

Ethiopian operates 14 dedicated freighters, including four 737-800Fs with regional type capacity. The airline reconfigured 25 of its passenger aircraft to cope with demand during the pandemic, and four of these ‘preighter’ aircraft are still flying.

In the 2021/2022 fiscal year, Ethiopian recorded an annual cargo uplift of about 770,000 tonnes, with 1 million tonnes of cargo capacity. According to the airline, it is using the latest technologies for data, information and market intelligence, with 100% e-AWB capability from its main hub in Addis Ababa.

Meanwhile, Kenya Airways also sees demand for ad hoc cargo, such as plants and livestock. The airline recently transported a 14-tonne shipment of macadamia plants from Nairobi to Brazzaville in Congom as well as live goats and sheep from  South Africa to Mauritius – an uplift of 13,500 kg, the first of six charters to ferry 1,800 animals to Mauritius.

Its good news for the horticulture sector in Kenya too, the first vacuum cooling service was inaugurated in last month at the land-side of the air cargo terminal facility in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, in Nairobi.

The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) said the vacuum cooling service was expected to boost the country’s export earnings and increase the competitiveness of Kenya’s exports in the global fresh produce market.

According to KAA, post-harvest losses in Kenya range from 10% to 50%, depending on the type of produce, therefore the vacuum cooling service spells good tidings for cool chain sector. The new offering is a partnership between Mitchell Cotts Group, Perishable Movements and Fresh Handling Kenya.


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