Astral opens cargo hubs in China, UAE


An Astral Aviation cargo plane. PHOTO | FILE

Africa’s only cargo airline, Astral Aviation is opening new hubs in China and United Arabs Emirates as the carrier expand its stations beyond the continent.

Kenyan-based Astral Aviation, which last week launched its largest capacity aircraft Boeing 767, has already finalised the plans of opening a hub in Sharjah, which will be operational this February while the one in Guangzhou, China will be commissioned mid this year.

Airline chief executive officer Sanjeev Gadhia said they signed the agreement with UAE in December for the opening of the hub in the region where the carrier is targeting to use this new base to distribute cargo from Kenya to other middle-eastern countries.

“We are opening new hubs in China and Sharjah to help boost our networks in different regions in the world,” said Mr Gadhia.

The airline, he said, will operate two flights to Dubai every week ferrying horticultural produce and meat products.

On the way back, the carrier will ship in electronic goods with one flight destined to Nairobi while the other one will go to Eldoret.

Mr Gadhia said the goods coming to Kenya from the Sharjah hub, only 20 percent of it will remain in Kenya while the rest will be distributed to other regional countries where the carrier operates.

Dubai and China are major destinations for Kenyans in terms of imports as a lot of local business people bring in their merchandise from these two countries.

Kenya Airways started flying to Sharjah from Moi International Airport in Mombasa last year mainly ferrying fish to the UAE.

The carrier started with two weekly flights at the Sharjah International Airport with plans to increase the frequency on the route basing on demand.

Cargo remains the only business in aviation that was not hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic across the world.

While cargo has been a lifeline for many airlines, IATA reports that African airlines saw demand shrink by 1.7 percent year-on-year in November, reversing three months of positive year-on-year growth.

The drop was primarily driven by soft performance on the Asia-Africa route, which was down 4.5 percent year-on-year.

However, the effect on air freight was less severe with Kenyan airports experiencing an eight percent decrease in cargo volumes in 2020, according to the Ministry of Transport.