KQ: “We want to connect Africa as much as we can”

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In 2021, the world is a small place. The air cargo industry creates lifelines from all corners of the world and if the pandemic has highlighted anything, it’s the importance of these air bridges on all aspects of life and trade.

As the world restarts again, airlines are resuming routes and adding new destination to their network.

ACW spoke to Allan Kilavuka, group managing director and chief executive officer at Kenya Airways about the East African airline’s network and expansion plans.

“KQ is well interconnected, with Africa being the niche. We serve over 36 points in the continent, and we are keen to grow this figure as the pandemic phases out. Our interest is to connect Africa as much as we possibly can and provide linkages to destinations outside of Africa,” Kilavuka explained.

Route to recovery

“In 2019, KQ was voted by AFRAA (African Airlines Association), The Best Improved in Intra-Africa Connectivity. Our aspiration is to be the preferred carrier in the region by 2024. We are currently ranked 2nd for intra-Africa connectivity.”

Kilavuka described that the airline will renew its focus in the region post-pandemic, following points to action. These points include: prioritising the return of earlier suspended African destinations; revamping and increasing frequencies to “signature” African destinations like Capetown, Victoria Falls, Livingstone, Seychelles etc.; advocating for reopening of key African islands like Mauritius, Madagascar and being first into these markets; building winning partnerships with other African carriers like Congo Airways (in DRC), Airlink (in South Africa) among others; and partnering with like-minded airlines like Delta Airlines and other companies to offer greater access to niche markets like Maasai Mara. 

There has been much uncertainty around flying to some destinations these past 18 months but KQ’s operations have not come to complete standstill, which has created momentum to push the airline forward post-pandemic. “Some of the new cargo routes that have been activated during the pandemic include Sharjah, Frankfurt, Guinea Bissou, New Delhi and Gaborone which serve both scheduled and non-scheduled basis,” explained Kilavuka.

“This also includes the activation of the southern HUB concept routes Johannesburg/Lilongwe, Johannesburg/Lusaka, Johannesburg/Dar-es-Salaam, Johannesburg/Maputo and Johannesburg/Harare.”

The height of the preighter era

As for preighters, which have helped tackle the capacity issues that have challenged the industry, Kilavuka told ACW that he believes this trend will continue. “This is essential in terms of de-risking our business and is in line with our diversification strategy. Our passenger business contributes 85% and, if 2020 is anything to go by, we need to build business resilience and ensure that our cargo business contributes to 20% of the overall business. In December of last year, we launched the world’s first B787 Preighter, which increased dedicated cargo capacity by 126 tonnes per week.”

The next step

KQ is making plans for network expansions.We have plans to expand our routes to different markets in alignment with our strategy for the sustainable development of Africa as we continue to contribute to the socio-economic development of the region by ensuring the movement of people and goods,” said Kilavuka.

Key short, medium and long investments will also be made to “bolster” KQ’s regional African footprint. These include the recently completed world class pharma handling infrastructure in our JKIA warehouse, introduction of additional B733F aircraft into our cargo fleet by Q1 2022, among others.

“Cargo is going to grow into 20% of the business up from 10% and will cover 30% of Kenya’s cargo market. We have embarked on expanding cargo operations in Southern Africa to uplift cargo directly from Johannesburg to Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania 

We have also recently signed MoU with Congo Airways to cover technical capacity building, commercial cooperation and human resource training. Part of this will cover cost-effective aircraft maintenance and technical expertise, particularly on the Embraer E-Jet fleet training in engineering, flight deck and crew, route codeshare opportunities and other synergies.”