Development of intra-African air cargo networks vital for future

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Developing intra-African networks is essential to grow the continent’s airfreight market and new agreements set to come into play are set to give a significant boost.

Boeing’s Thomas Crabtree (pictured above), who analyses the air cargo market for the US aircraft manufacturer told delegates at the Africa Air Cargo Summit in Addis Ababa yesterday that the African market has been growing from five to seven per cent over the last few years, but only six per cent of the volume is on intra-African lanes.

The biggest four intra-markets in 2013 he said were South Africa to Kenya, Ethiopia to Nigeria, Kenya to Nigeria and South Africa to Nigeria.

And fellow session panelist, Ethiopian Cargo’s director of global cargo sales and services, Berhanu Kassa told delegates: “The intra-Africa network is growing and freighter services will play a key role to intensify this.”

He added: “African carriers can form different levels of cooperation to develop the intra-African network for the benefits of the continent.” His airline is adding to its hub in Ethiopia by opening hubs in Togo and Malawi.

Astral Aviation’s chief executive officer, Sanjeev Gadhai felt intra-African networks are a big opportunity for airlines, but explained: “African carriers needs to invest in more freighters and expand as that is what is required to grow the intra-African market.”

He also told delegates the Single African Air Transport Market, which is set to be active next year and is signed by 20 countries will have a positive impact and along with the Tripartite Freed Trade Area, which includes 26 countries and is the biggest free trade agreement in the world – will drive intra-African trade and networks.

But Gadhia warned: “It is tough for African airlines as we are feeling the impact of foreign carriers (such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines) operating increasing services and bringing capacity into Africa.”

Astral hopes to add new Boeing 747 Freighters and B737-400F to its fleet in the future and there are plans to develop a new hub in West Africa – in either Accra or Lagos and another in South Africa in Johannesburg, adding to the one it has in Nairobi.

Gadhia said the company hoped to lease two B747s for international operations and to lease six B737s for intra-African use. He said the intra-African market is growing at around 10-15 per cent per annum.

He told delegates: “We don’t believe you can have a single hub for Africa. The continent is too big and the distances are too big. You need to have a multi-hub strategy for Africa.”

There are also plans to increase its network in East Africa from eight to 14 routes.

Kassa said the main intra-African network commodities Ethiopian is seeing is agricultural products and manufacturing goods, while Gahdia said Astral is handling lots of perishables, motor vehicles and an increasing amount of consumer goods, as the continent’s middle class develops.

One of main concerns raised was though the high number of one-way trade lanes on intra-African routes due to an imbalance of imports and exports between African countries and is presenting a a major challenge for carriers.