Kenya’s Astral Aviation (8V, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta) intends to set up a hub in Lomé, Togo in line with plans to target the West African cargo market, while also extending its Southern African network, and spreading its wings intercontinentally, according to chief executive Sanjeev Gadhia.

Speaking at the Routes Online TakeOff Cargo virtual event recently, he said 70% of the East African carrier's future expansion would be inter-African in line with high levels of air cargo growth expected in the coming years following the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in January 2021 and new market opportunities that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These had resulted in Astral Aviation recording its best annual results to date in 2020. “We carried the highest amount of cargo ever and our revenues were significantly better compared to previous years,” he said.

However, the cargo specialist is also looking to expand intercontinentally. “Hong Kong is very important to us because it’s a gateway, but we’re also looking at flying to new airports in China,” Gadhia said. “If any Chinese airports would like to reach out to us, please feel free to do so. We’re going to have a very major expansion into China in the second half of this year going into 2022.”

According to the ch-aviation fleets advanced module, Astral Aviation operates two B727-200(F)s, (one owned and leased from J & V Aviation FZC); one B747-400(BDSF) and one B747-400(FSCD), both wet-leased from Air Atlanta Icelandic (CC, Reykjavik Keflavik); one owned B767-200(SF), one owned DC-9-30(CF), and one Fokker 27 freighter. In May, the carrier signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia’s Volga-Dnepr Airlines (VI, Ulyanovsk Vostochny) to foster cooperation in the humanitarian sector.

Astral is amongst the airlines signed up to UNICEF’s Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative, an agreement to support the prioritisation of delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, essential medicines, medical devices, and other critical supplies to respond to the pandemic.