Astral Aviation’s Sanjeev Gadhia reveals ‘cautious optimism’ on plans for Africa

There is plenty of activity at Kenya-based cargo operator Astral Aviation, with new AOCs, a new airline in the pipeline and, reportedly, new investment.

In June, reports surfaced that Astral was setting up three more cargo subsidiaries alongside Suid Cargo Airlines, a South African start-up announced at Air Cargo Africa in February.

Other reports suggest Astral is looking to inject fresh cash for new airline ventures in Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

“We are making good progress with our new AOC in South Africa,” CEO Sanjeev Gadhia  told The Loadstar, but did not comment on other AOCs.

He expects the South African AOC to be fully operational by mid-September, starting with a 737-300F from Johannesburg on scheduled and charter flights in the region, including to Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Zambia, Namibia, DR Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola and Rwanda.

Domestically, Astral remains cautiously optimistic on the growth of cargo from its Nairobi hub. Mr Gadhia said: “Within the intra-African network we expect an annual growth of 5%, however the growth into the Middle East, which includes Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE, is expected to grow by 10% due to the high demand for Kenyan perishables like flowers, vegetables, fruits and meat products.

“In the case of Europe, however, we will see very low growth in air cargo, due to a gradual shift to sea freight for flowers and vegetables.”

It has been widely reported that more produce exports from Kenya will shift from air to sea in the next 10 years. Concurrently, Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, a prime sorting centre for flowers from Africa, indicated that the cargo was not high-yield enough and while this activity continues, the airport was severely slot constrained, so floral cargo would also enter the Netherlands in other ways.

Mr Gadhia had observed the gradual shift, but reckoned airfreight would continue to be the preferred option for most of the flowers.

Elsewhere, Astral is building partnerships to add much-needed capacity. In February, it and Etihad Cargo announced an agreement between Abu Dhabi and Nairobi, sharing up to 50% of available capacity on additional flights between the two cities.

But it appears these operations have been delayed. Mr Gadhia said Astral and Etihad Cargo had been working on the planned flights, Nairobi-Abu Dhabi-Nairobi, and they would now commence in September, due to a previous lack of aircraft availability.

In a bid to expand its reach, Astral introduced a 757-200F to the fleet last year to compliment its 747-400F, 767-200F and 727-200F. In June, the 757F was used to launch services from Nairobi to Tel Aviv, carrying mostly perishables, especially pineapples and vegetables.

Dignitaries from the Kenya and Israel governments welcomed the freighter operation as “a significant milestone in strengthening the economic ties between the two countries”. In addition, partnerships with El Al Israeli Airlines and Challenge Group are feeding Africa-bound shipments through Tel Aviv to Astral’s Nairobi hub.

African countries have limited trade with Israel, but opportunities are there if further strengthening of relations with individual counties is encouraged.

Africa’s growing market could also be an important destination for Israeli exports, especially South Africa, its primary trade partner in the sub-Saharan region, where imports from Israel totalled $267.24m last year, according to data from the United Nations COMTRADE database.


Source: The Loadstar