Astral Aviation reports that a high number of relief cargo flights into South Sudan kept the Nairobi-based cargo carrier busy during the first half of 2014. Astral performed more than 200 flights to and within this region, using a combination of DC9F, B727 and DC8F aircraft, says company CEO Sanjeev Gadhia.
In addition, Gadhia says Astral has experienced high utilization on its Pemba, Mozambique, service due to an increase of oil and gas shipments into Mozambique. That service recently observed its first anniversary. In early June, the company announced it would increase its service to Pemba to twice a week. Gadhia says the main customers for this service are the energy companies operating in the province of Cabo Delgado.
He says other routes performing well in 2014 are Mogadishu, Somalia; Mwanza, Tanzania; Bangui, Central African Republic; and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Also, the Atlas-leased B747-400F has been operating consistently on its Nairobi-London-Ostend-Lagos routes.
Also driving Astral’s business has been transport of mining equipment into Tanzania and perishables into Europe.
“The second half of 2014 looks promising with a similar trend of the first half with a projected increase in aid and relief cargoes into South Sudan and Central African Republic, combined with higher volumes of oil and gas, and mining cargoes into Mozambique and Tanzania respectively,” Gadhia says.
In late June, Astral began operating its newly acquired five-tonne Fokker 27. Gadhia says this will complement its existing fleet in addition to its B737-400F, which will join the fleet in the third quarter to replace the aging DC9 fleet. Astral also operates two DC9Fs and two B727Fs in addition to its wet-leased B747-400F from Atlas Air.
The Fokker 27 will serve Astral’s existing oil and gas network into Pemba; Mtwara, Tanzania; Lokichar / Kapese, Kenya; and Mwanza. Astral says the aircraft will also be available for ad-hoc charters within Eastern Africa.
Gadhia says political instability in some of the countries that Astral operates into, especially South Sudan and Central African Republic, are amongst the biggest challenges, but they also present more opportunities in accessibility.
Astral recently began a scheduled cargo service into Zanzibar, Tanzania and will introduce a new service into Lokichar, which is in the heart of the oil producing region of Northern Kenya. Other routes will be introduced once the B737-400F joins the fleet, Gadhia says.
Astral also plans to join the world of E-freight. Gadhia says the company recently confirmed its participation to the International Air Transport Association for the e-air waybill, and “hence it is at an early stage of compliance.”
Astral signed a memorandum of understanding with China’s HNA Group in May. Gadhia says this will result in a “significant re-engineering of Astral’s business market in 2015, which will enable it to diversify into the passenger market in Eastern Africa. Astral will acquire five ERJ 145s from its principals in China for the passenger flights, he says.