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Astral plane plugs the capacity gap

Posted 17 June 2019 · Add Comment

Kenyan all-freight operator, Astral Aviation, is to add two Boeing 767-200Fs this year – marking its first examples of the type – and is separately evaluating Airbus A321 and 737-800 freighters as it seeks to address capacity gaps in its fleet. Victoria Moores reports.

Astral Aviation currently operates two 747-400Fs, one 727, two McDonnell Douglas DC-9s and a Fokker F27.
“We’re really proud of our aircraft. They serve us well,” said the company’s founder and CEO, Sanjeev Gadhia.
However, Gadhia is looking to address the capacity jump between Astral’s 747s and 727s, by adding a pair of 767-200 freighters. Both have already been converted. The initial 767 was scheduled for delivery as African Aerospace was going to press, followed by the second towards the end of 2019.
Integrators are taking a lot of 767 freighters from the market, but Gadhia said there is less demand for the older variants, so Astral is still seeing a good supply.
The 767s will be used to operate a scheduled service from Nairobi to Dubai, stopping at various African points – including Lagos (Nigeria), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Johannesburg (South Africa) – on the return flight to Astral’s Nairobi hub. “There is a bit of a shortage of main-deck capacity between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Africa,” Gadhia explained.
Beyond the 767s, Gadhia is also looking at some further fleet additions. “We expect that, by 2020, we will go for either the A321 freighter, or the 737-800 freighter. We have already got a proposal on paper for the A321 freighter and it looks amazing.”
Despite looking very positive, Astral wants to wait until the specifications are tried and tested before taking a decision. “The manufacturers are very good at giving estimates, but the reality can be very different.”
Meanwhile, Astral’s two 747s – one nose-loading, one side-loading – are operating a busy schedule, including twice-weekly flights from Nairobi to Doncaster Sheffield (UK) and twice-weekly to Liege (Belgium). “Both 747s are operating flat out, especially during the Christmas and Valentine’s peaks,” Gadhia said.
Much of this 747 capacity is to the UK. Gadhia believes these operations will be unaffected by the UK’s plans to leave the European Union (Brexit). “We are currently not worried about Brexit. Kenya and Britain have traffic rights, so we expect no issue. All in all, everything is looking very positive.”
Astral is also striding ahead with its cargo-drone plans. The Kenyan freight specialist has plans to take at least five FlyOx drones from Spanish company Singular Aircraft in 2019-20. The programme is well under way and a series of tests have just been completed in Norway.
Timings for the launch will depend on when Astral secures type approval from the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority. “We will be the first airline in the world to commence flying cargo by drone,” Gadhia said.
The drones will initially be used for humanitarian work, later extending into commercial freight.
Astral is also taking up to 12 250kg-payload Lucas-F250 drones from Dubai-based Falcon Drones Technology. The initial delivery was planned as African Aerospace was going to press. These will be used for agricultural freight, carrying produce from remote farms to the city.

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