Low freight capacity limits KQ’s cargo business


A KQ cargo plane. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Lack of investment in cargo freighters has seen Kenya Airways miss out on business when there is a lot of goods to transport amid low capacity after most of the airlines pulled out in the wake of Covid-19.

Even though KQ has converted some of its Dreamliners for freight services, the carrier is only doing 40 tonnes on a one-way trip to Europe, with limited cargo on the return leg.

KQ does not have long-range cargo aircraft and the two B737F that the carrier owns can only do regional services and there is not much cargo to transport within Africa.

Michael Joseph, the company’s chairman, says the airline would have invested in cargo business if they had funds. However, he added, the company is reviewing the option as part of the future plans. “We are definitely reviewing the plans (for cargo business),” said Mr Joseph without revealing much information.

The previous management of the airline did not invest in large cargo aircraft such as B777 or B747 that can do long-haul journeys with a capacity of over 110 tonnes. The focus, however, was on passenger planes with the carrier having acquired a number of Dreamliner aircraft during the Project Mawingu.

Ethiopian Airlines, which has more than seven B777 planes, has always given the national carrier a run for its money not only on cargo business but also passenger service. The Ethiopian carrier has deployed a good number of its passenger aircraft for freight business to complement the cargo planes that they are operating in different routes of the word.

Kenya is one of the leading exporters of fresh produce to Europe where it sells over 80 percent of its flowers, vegetables and fruits. This would have given KQ’s cargo wing ready business.

“I don’t think it is profitable to fly occasional flights to Europe and back, carrying just 40 tonnes of cargo. The airline needs to do daily cargo flights on the Dreamliner to make it economically viable as currently they are only doing limited flights,” said an aviation expert who requested anonymity.

Before Covid-19, KQ was flying daily to London, Paris and Amsterdam, carrying about 20 tonnes (belly cargo) every day to each destination in Europe. With the outbreak of Coronavirus, the carrier is now flying limited number of cargo to Europe, meaning that they are carrying much less using passenger aircraft.

The consignment ferried by KQ is way smaller than what a local freight carrier Astral Aviation carries in a week to Europe and other African countries. Astral, which has its base at JKIA, transports 400 tonnes of cargo in a week, making it the second largest freight carrier in Africa after the market leader Ethiopian Airlines. Cargo business has become lucrative at the moment with only a handful of carriers operating from Kenya to other parts of the world after most of them pulled out of the route following the Covid-19 disruption.