Perishables fuelling Saudia Cargo surge in Africa

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Saudia Cargo regional director for Africa, Ken Mbogo

The African market saw a major improvement in 2016 for Saudia Cargo with 14 per cent growth helped by extra capacity out of Nairobi – led by the perishables market.

Saudia Cargo regional director Africa, Ken Mbogo says the carrier increased Boeing 747 Freighter frequencies from Nairobi from seven a week to eight. He says 2017 has continued the strong growth in 2016.

He expects this to continue, helped by a strong perishable market out of Nairobi: “We may introduce more frequencies to be able to cope with the demand that is there in the market.”

Perishables, particularly flowers continue to bloom across Africa, making up 90 per cent of exports from the continent, with Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia remaining the key export countries.

Though Africa mainly exports fresh cut flowers, vegetables and fruit, in certain countries meat is a popular product. Mbogo says: “Out of the Ethiopian market, 90 per cent of the produce inside the flights is meat for Saudi Arabia.”

The flowers are mainly destined for Europe while fruit and vegetables primarily fly to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Like many airlines, Saudia Cargo increased services in the run up for Valentine’s Day, and Mbogo says: “We operated six additional flights from Nairobi in addition to the eight flights we usually operate to cater for demand.”

Saudia operates a mixture of freighters and passenger aircraft with bellyhold capacity in the African market. In South Africa it operates three weekly freighters and four passenger flights with 15 tonnes of bellyhold capacity.

Mbogo says: “What we find is for imports into South Africa it is mainly on the main deck in freighters then we go to Nairobi to pick up flowers to go back to Europe, but we use the belly for exports from South Africa to Saudi Arabia.”

He says freighters generally are not needed for exports from South Africa so they fly to Nairobi where they are needed.

Mbogo says: “One unique thing about the African air cargo business is normally one direction, it’s mainly import driven there are very few countries that you go into where you are able to get imports and exports at the same time.”

In future, Mbogo sees Africa growing, strengthening and diversifying: “We have seen the perishable market growing year-on-year for the past 20 years and we don’t see it stopping.”

He is confident Saudia will continue serving Africa: “In Kenya we started off with three freighters a week – now we have eight, that’s tremendous growth. We are a major player in Africa because we have good representation, knowledgeable and experienced staff and why we have been able to turn around the business in the last 6-7 years.”