Astral Aviation is deploying its newly-acquired B767-200 freighter on the Nairobi (NBO) – Sharjah (SHJ) route, with effect from 3 February.
The freighter, acquired from Air Transport Services Group (ATSG) in October 2020 offers a capacity of 80 tonnes per week of flowers and vegetables from Kenya to the UAE.
In December 2020, Astral Aviation selected Sharjah International Airport as its Middle Eastern hub, in addition to its existing European hub at Liege International Airport (LGG) in Belgium and its African hub at JKIA in Nairobi, Kenya.
Sharjah was chosen due to its strategic location, as well as the high international standard of the services it provides, according to Astral. These include facilities to handle temperature-controlled perishable, pharma, and healthcare cargo.
Astral is also planning to upgrade its Nairobi – Johannesburg (HLA) route to the B767-200F from the B727-200F which it currently operates. This will lift the total capacity to 160 tonnes per week to South Africa.
The freighter will also offer capacity on high-priority for the distribution of Covid vaccines to, and within Africa in addition to humanitarian cargo missions.
Marking the launch of the B767 freighter in Nairobi on 22 January, Astral Aviation chief executive officer, Sanjeev Gadhia re-iterated that the newly-acquired freighter will complement the existing fleet by providing new opportunities in the 40-tonnes category which was previously underserved in Africa.
Gadhia notes the B767F is ideal for Astral’s intra-African network, which comprises 15 scheduled destinations while offering new opportunities to the Middle East, which is an important gateway for East Africa’s air imports and exports.
The freighter’s induction to the Astral fleet also marks an important milestone for the aviation industry as it recovers from the effects of the pandemic, which led to an 8.0 per cent decline in cargo volumes through Kenya in 2020.
Congratulating Astral Aviation on its achievement, Cabinet Secretary in Kenya’s Ministry of Transport, James Macharia, re-affirmed the commitment of his government to invest in the country’s transport system and to maintain Kenya’s position as the key regional transport hub through planned modernisation and expansion of aviation facilities.
Acting managing director of the Kenya Airports Authority, Alex Gitari noted Astral Aviation’s stature as the fastest-growing cargo airline in the region and reaffirmed Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA)’s regional cargo hub position.
JKIA has a capacity of 1.2 million tonnes which includes 9,000 sqm of cold room facilities. Gitari adds that Astral Aviation’s acquisition of the B767-200F is timely, as it enhances JKIA’s capacity and ability to handle transhipments of Covid-19 vaccines, the rollout of which is expected soon.