Freighters to ferry pharma from India to Africa

Kenya-based Astral Aviation operates charter flights to and from India on its B767-200F to ferry mobile phones, e-commerce cargo and pharma. Sanjeev Gadhia, Founder & CEO says it can handle up to 1.5mn tons of cargo. The airline plans to expand its fleet with the arrival of 2 x B767-300F in 2023 and 2 x B777-300F in 2024 and 2025.

CT Bureau

Please tell us about the genesis of Kenya-based Astral Aviation business ops in India and abroad. How is the carrier gearing up to meet the increased demand and 100 per cent capacity utilisation?

Astral Aviation operates charter flights to and from India on its B767-200F. The charter flights to India originate from Hong Kong and cargo comprises mobile phones and e-commerce cargo and, pharmaceuticals. The charter flights from India carry pharma, including vaccines, destined to Africa. With the induction of the B757-200F into the Astral fleet in September 2022, Astral will be offering additional charter flights to meet the increase in demand. B767F will have a payload of 42 tons and B757F with a payload of 30 tons.

Astral Aviation acquired a widebody aircraft and is eyeing jumbo jets to expand operations. Shed light on your fleet of freighters. What are the new destinations launched for cargo after the international flights resumed?

Astral Aviation currently operates two X B747-400Fs for perishables between Nairobi Hub and Europe. It will soon expand its wide-body fleet with the arrival of two X B767-300Fs in 2023 and two X B777-300Fs in 2024 and 2025, respectively. Astral will be introducing new flights to and from Tel Aviv and Riyadh, while increasing frequency to Johannesburg and Hong Kong. It also operates to 50 destinations on its network, which are connected via its hubs in Nairobi, Liege, Dubai, Johannesburg, and Delhi.

Explain digital and physical state of the art infrastructure for efficient storage, handling, and transportation of all types of cargo, especially cold chain products, pharma among others?

The Kenya-based airline outsourced ground handling activities in Nairobi is Africa Flight Services. It has excellent infrastructure for efficient storage, handling, and transportation of all types of cargoes, including cold-chain products. The cargo facility at the Nairobi Airport can handle cargo equivalent to 25 million vaccine doses in 3,000-meter square metres of cold-storage facility with an additional 6,000-square meters of outsourced cold-storage facility at the airport, which makes it the largest cold storage air side facility this side of Africa.

How would you rate infra in Kenya for efficient cargo movement? Does it support the airline’s plans to move cargo, especially pharma, efficiently or should it be improved?

Kenya has the best infrastructure in Africa for cargo movement with air-side facilities, which can handle up to 1.5-million tons of cargo via AFS, Swissport, Kenya Airways, Siginon Group and The Manpower Company (TMC). They have been constructed under the PPP Concession model—it has been successful in Kenya. We are fortunate to operate one of the best aviation hubs not only in Africa, but in the developing world.

Elaborate on the Indian and Middle Eastern destinations covered. What kind of cargo is moved between them?

We operate scheduled services from our Middle East Hub, Dubai to our Nairobi Hub with onward connection to 20 destinations on the Intra-African network. We operate e-commerce and mobile phone charters to Delhi, Mumbai, and Hyderabad in India from Hong Kong, in addition to charters for pharma from India to Africa on the B767-200F; it will be complemented with a B757-200F from September 2022.

Sustainability is the key buzzword in the sector. Air cargo industry is flying towards SAF. Share with us the carbon-neutral initiatives taken by the airline?

Astral Aviation is still in the process of developing a sustainability program.

Could you elaborate on the global best techniques and strategies that you are planning to infuse into the company’s operations for efficiency in business and network enhancement?

We are still under negotiations and will be making an announcement at the IATA World Cargo Symposium in London.

What are the strategies adopted by the airline to move ahead and achieve growth?

Astral has embarked on a new strategy of appointing new GSAs and CSAs in India, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, China, and UAE, which will enable it to achieve growth into its network. Astral appointed Zeal Global in India during the air cargo India event.

What are your upcoming projects and expansion plans?

With the induction of the B757-200F in September 2022, Astral will offer additional capacity to and within India, and will operate new scheduled flights to and from Israel and Saudi Arabia in 2022, and plans to resume operations from China to India, Middle East, and Africa.