Astral Aviation has ambitious growth plans for Africa after marking its 15th anniversary this year. It will expand its freighter fleet and intends to more than double its offering of scheduled routes.
“From 2016 to 2018 we will be setting up of new hubs in Lagos and Johannesburg to meet the requirements of customers shipping to West and Southern Africa,” says the carrier’s marketing manager, Peter Kamile.
Astral will begin to restructure its fleet in 2016 with the acquisition of the first of up to six Boeing 737 Freighters in the next two to three years. “Our intention is to create the largest cargo network in Africa by increasing our intra-Africa schedule footprint from the existing 10 scheduled routes to over 24,” Kamile says.
Kamile tells Air Cargo Week (ACW) that other plans include diversifying into an integrator-style express service and experimenting with un-manned cargo aircraft, details of which will be revealed in the new year.
Astral has experienced good load factors on most of its African routes especially Juba, Mogadishu, Mwanza, and Dar-es-Salaam (both Tanzania), though a dip in the oil and gas sector has resulted in lower volumes for Pemba (Mozambique).
“The Nairobi-London sector has been consistent with very good load factors,” adds Kamile. “In 2015, we have operated a number of relief flights from our Nairobi and Djibouti hub into Yemen and also into Bangui in the Central African Republic, as well as to Juba, South Sudan and Mogadishu, Somalia.”
According to Kamile, Africa is not without its share of challenges for the future. “Many relate to a lack of a liberalised framework which causes restrictions on traffic rights, market-access and connectivity. Protectionism still exists in certain regions. Taxes on fuel and ground-handling, along with cargo taxes and royalties, all increase the cost of airfreight,” he explains.
Poor infrastructure at over two thirds of African airports poses additional challenges and whilst African carriers dominate the intra-African market – thanks to the efforts of Ethiopian Airlines Cargo, South Africa Airways Cargo, Kenya Airways Cargo and Astral – foreign carriers still account for 85 per cent of airfreight to and from Africa.