How cargo has boosted African airlines 06:23 Nairobi (CNN Business)While passenger air travel has plummeted during the pandemic, demand for air cargo has surged. With e-commerce up and trucks often unable to cross borders, air freight became a global lifeline transporting medical supplies and personal protective equipment, as well as all kinds of everyday products.
According to the International Air Transport Association, in June this year African airlines increased freight volumes by 33.5% compared to the same period in 2019 — a bigger increase than anywhere else in the world.
CNN Business spoke with Allan Kilavuka, group managing director and CEO at Kenya Airways, from inside what he calls " the world’s first cargo-converted Dreamliner 787 ," about how the airline has pivoted to meet this market shift. The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How did Covid-19 impact your business?
Kilavuka: Kenya Airways is one of the largest operators within Africa. Last year, like all other airlines, we suffered a significant drop in numbers. Before 2020, we were flying approximately 5 million passengers per year, 2019 being the record year. In 2020, which was the year that we suffered the pandemic, it dropped to about 1.8 million. So a significant drop and those numbers are reflected in our revenue numbers and subsequently our losses.
We also used to fly to 53 destinations across the world — that dropped to 41 but we hope to scale it back up a little bit more. Within Africa, we used to fly to over 40 destinations. That again has dropped to currently 36 destinations. Some we need to reactivate and see how that grows going forward. The inside of Kenya Airways cargo-converted Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya, on July 6. How has the airline responded to the growing demand for air cargo?
Kilavuka: Until now cargo has been about 10% of our business. We want to grow that to over 20% of our business, to double it within the next three to five years. And in order to do that, we need to increase capacity. Africa must remove barriers to flying to secure post-pandemic boom, says IATA regional exec So right now we are sitting in the world’s first cargo converted Dreamliner 787. This one we have dedicated to cargo — this and another one like this. We have at least 50 tons of cargo […]