Astral halts South Sudan cargo service, charters evac flight

Astral2-bigDue to an outbreak of military hostilities this week in the newly formed country of South Sudan, Kenya-based cargo carrier Astral Aviation has temporarily suspended its three-times-per-week cargo flights from Nairobi to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. While a cease-fire has been called on Wednesday and the airport has reopened since being forced to close on Sunday, the peace is considered tenuous at best, according to local media.

Astral joins other carriers RwandAir and Kenya Airways, which had both suspended flights to Juba the day before, said a report in The East African. In addition, the Siginon Group, also from Kenya, has suspended cargo service by truck to the South Sudanese capital.

Astral evac flight 2

Evacuees from Juba on Astral’s chartered Fokker 100 arrive in Nairobi.

Astral, however, has not been idle in the region, chartering an evacuation flight to protect South Sudanese civilians from the violence. Yesterday, July 12, Astral operated a Fokker 100 charter aircraft, carrying 96 passengers from Juba to Nairobi. The carrier said these evac charters will continue operating daily from Juba to Nairobi as needed.

Sanjeev Gadhia, CEO of Astral Aviation, said the fighting has caused a backlog of about 100 tonnes of cargo that has been consigned for South Sudan. Gadhia said the carrier plans to resume cargo flights this Friday, July 15, and has scheduled a press conference to update the carrier’s status on that date. Normally, Astral carries an average of 50 tonnes of cargo per week between the two neighboring countries.

Astral has assisted in the evacuation of passengers during earlier conflicts that followed in the wake of South Sudan’s independence from Sudan. From December 2013 to January 2014, the carrier flew about 1,000 passengers out of Juba. South Sudan won its independence as a separate country in 2011.

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