South African cargo start-up Suid Cargo Airlines (Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) will begin non-scheduled flights from its hub at Johannesburg O.R. Tambo in the second quarter of 2023 with a B727-200(F) wet-leased from 25% shareholder Astral Aviation (8V, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta).

The Kenyan cargo specialist will also make its fleet of two B747-400(BDSF)s, one B767-200(SF), and two B757-200(PCF)s available to the subsidiary on a charter basis, which will enable Suid Cargo to scale its operations to cover Southern-, West- and East Africa, plus Asia, the Middle East and Europe, Astral Aviation Chief Executive Officer Sanjeev Gadhia said in a statement.

In May 2022, Astral Aviation disclosed to ch-aviation that it was setting up a joint venture AOC in South Africa to be called "Suid" - meaning South in Afrikaans - but asked to keep the news confidential until the air operator's certificate (AOC) had been finalised. Gadhia has now revealed that Suid Cargo will apply for its AOC by October 2023, as the plan is to operate the wet-leased B727 freighter for six months.

The airline is setting up another joint venture AOC in Togo, and is leasing its A320-200(P2F) to Indian start-up Pradhaan Air Express (6P, Delhi International) (of which Astral is not a shareholder) as part of ambitious plans to become a global player.

The company said it acquired a third B727-200(F) from a US lessor, which will be delivered to Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta and positioned to Johannesburg O.R. Tambo once the South African AOC is finalised. Astral Aviation already has two B727-200(Fs) stationed in Nairobi. Later the news emerged it was planning to retire the two B727-200(F)s in Nairobi. The airline has also suggested that one of the two B757-200(PCF) leased from Aquila Air Capital could also be based in Johannesburg.

Announcing Suid Cargo Airlines at the sidelines of the recent Air Cargo Africa 2023 conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, accountable manager and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Honiball said the start-up expects to transition to scheduled services in 2024, which will include operating a domestic network in South Africa. He said the company plans to buy more freighters in 2024, including narrowbodies such as A320-200(P2F)s or B737-800(F)s, and E190 passenger to freighter (P2F) conversions in 2025. Astral Aviation has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Nordic Aviation Capital for two E190(P2F) freighters which, if firmed, will make the Kenyan cargo specialist the type's global launch operator.

Commercial Director Kevin Moodley said the new airline plans to promote exports from South Africa and transit shipments to more than 20 African destinations, including Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Zambia, Namibia, DRC, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Angola, and Rwanda. "Sea-to-air" cargo operations from Durban King Shaka and Cape Town International will reduce transit time to the landlocked regions in Africa.

Suid Cargo also plans to enter into long-term partnerships with freight forwarders, consolidators, integrators, e-commerce retailers and shipping lines and interlining with African and foreign airlines to promote its Johannesburg hub.

According to ch-aviation research, Suid Cargo Airlines' application for a Class II non-scheduled license for the transport of cargo or mail (N2) covering Category A1 aircraft (any fixed-wing aircraft with a maximum certificated mass exceeding 20,000 kilograms) was gazetted in August 2022. The company was registered in South Africa on August 12, 2021, with a head office in Midrand, Gauteng. Gadhia and Moodley are listed as the only directors of the company. South Africa imposes a cap of 25% on foreign ownership of locally-flagged airlines, but Gadhia declined to disclose the identity of the South African shareholders.

As reported, Astral Aviation is renewing and growing its fleet to expand its reach beyond Africa to Europe and the Far East. With the advent of COVID-19, the all-cargo specialist was well-placed for growth, enabling it to upgrade its fleet with the faster B767-200(SF) wide-body, enabling the company to expand its route network beyond the continent.