With newly repurposed Boeing 787 Dreamliners to carry cargo, Kenya Airways Cargo is not only prepared to transport air cargo in 2021 but is raring to go. While the ongoing horticulture season is already underway, the Covid-19 vaccine distribution across the continent is a priority for the air cargo carrier.

Kenya Airways Cargo (KQ Cargo), the cargo division of Kenya Airways, has had a busy few months. While they were preparing for the flower season, they not only restarted flights but more recently also repurposed one of two Boeing 787 Dreamliner into ‘preighters’ with the help of Avianor, the Montreal engineering company. At the official launch of the preighter for the air cargo carrier, Allan Kilavuka, Kenya Airways Group, CEO and MD, said, "KQ’s purpose is to contribute to the sustainable development of Africa. The preighter will enable us to bridge businesses and enhance connectivity. Kenya will export more goods to our partners across the globe and stimulate business for local suppliers."

The new cabin has been certified to carry up to 16 tonnes and also enables the aircraft to reach its maximum payload of 46 tonnes through belly capacity during cargo operations. Peter Musola, cargo commercial manager, KQ Cargo, said, “The decision to repurpose two dreamliners is largely driven by the current opportunities emanating from the cargo business with the shrinkage in global passenger traffic. This improves our current asset utilisation.” In February, the ‘preighter’ was used for the resumption of freighter flights between the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and New Delhi, to carry 33 tonnes of cargo including pharma, medical equipment, machinery and spare parts, time critical shipments and general merchandise.

The geographical location of Kenya is strategic giving her a more competitive edge over her regional counterparts

Exports and Covid-19 vaccine delivery

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly affected the Kenyan exports due to limited air freight capacity and with the country exporting as much as 70 per cent of flowers via Netherlands to Europe. Earlier in February, Kenya Airways also collaborated with the Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya, Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya, Kenya Flower Council to bolster the export of Kenya's robust fresh produce. This is one of the most important seasons for the air cargo carrier because they have to also allocate enough for the vaccines while catering to their biggest export business and there are different kinds of challenges. Musola says they have faced challenges but they have tactically opted to drive mid-term to long term contracts and are allowing their customers to bid for available opportunities, which allows them to give their best structural solutions. KQ Cargo’s confidence is evident as it is fully prepared for the ongoing season which started a few weeks before Valentine’s Day. Musola informs, “We’ve taken up new projects to service the Kenyan market with Valentine’s Day flower movement solutions, the upcoming International Women's Days, UK Mother’s Day and expected huge movements of vaccines.”

The current flower season has generally been affected because of Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent vaccine distribution is top priority for countries around the world. However, with pharmaceutical cargo taking centrestage, Kenya Airways Cargo is also preparing for the increasing demand to deliver the vaccines. Talking about the African air cargo carrier’s involvement in the vaccine distribution within Africa, Musola says, “KQ Cargo will be a key player in Covid-19 vaccine movements. We are developing strategic discussions with governments in Africa, considering we cover over 44 destinations in the continent, non-governmental organisations, forwarders and direct contact with pharmaceutical companies. The world class supportive pharma handling infrastructure backed up with a strong network will support delivery of the reliable and best in class solutions for our customers.”

In December 2020, the air cargo carrier invested in an ultra-modern pharma facility at the JKIA to prepare for the very same demand of pharmaceutical products around the world while also focusing on maintaining the integrity of the product in the supply chain and thus having an end-to-end cold chain logistics solution. In an earlier Logistics Update Africa report, Dick Murianki while KQ Cargo’s immediate focus is the Covid-19 vaccine distribution, it is also to reduce the burden of disease on Africa.

Kenya Airways Cargo also has the support of the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), who see JKIA at the centre of all the action. Jimmy Kibati, general manager- marketing and business development, KAA says, “The geographical location of Kenya is strategic giving her a more competitive edge over her regional counterparts. JKIA with its modern handling freight infrastructure such as cold rooms (with strict adherence to maintaining cool chain)warehouses, special freight area and the presence of experienced cargo ground handlers, more business in the region and therefore positions itself as a preferred cargo hub.”

Optimising the supply chain

Being an important part of the horticulture supply chain, Jeroen van der Hulst, owner and founder, FlowerWatch, has been working on finding the best possible solutions for flowers between the air cargo carriers, logistics stakeholders and growers. Ask him if there are any special arrangements being made because of limited air freight capacity, he says, “The industry is looking at sea freight as an alternative, but while technically this looks promising, in real life, the efforts to link sea freight and flowers business are quite challenging.”

The current flower season has generally been affected because of Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent vaccine distribution is top priority for countries around the world.

With limited air freight capacity, van der Hulst says he does not know when the capacities will go back to normal. It is not surprising then that there is an increasing need to look for ways in which one can transport more cargo and the best way to look at it is through optimisation of the available space. In a LinkedIn post, van der Hulst emphasises on the need for standardisation across the supply chain. He further emphasises on the 500 degree norm which tracks temperature exposure across the supply chain, which is a part of the FlowerWatch Quality Standards. However, van der Hulst believes that connecting with every link of the supply chain - from the growers to the forwarders, buyers and importers, with specific standards can lead to optimisation and thus better transport more cargo.

Going sustainable

Just like other air cargo carriers around the world, Kenya Airways Cargo is also taking an active part in working towards sustainability. Recently, on its 44th birthday, KQ Cargo announced its participation in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and aviation plays a very important role in achieving 15 of the 17 goals. Jacquie Muhati, head of Sustainability and Partnerships says, “The tree planting initiative supports our business objective around climate change which is SDG 13. Kenya Airways intends to scale up its programmes by seeking participation of customers, partners and visitors to plant trees throughout the next 12 months. This programme will include working with the Government of Kenya, schools and other partners that share the same vision.”

Muhati informs that The Ministry of Environment and Forestry in Kenya has embarked on a collaborative framework to rally all Kenyans into a massive tree planting campaign to accelerate actions towards the achievement of 10 per cent tree cover by 2022. She says, “The objective is planting and nurturing an estimated 2 billion tree seedlings between 2020 to 2022. Previously we have planted 1 million trees in Ngong forest and supported communities through our carbon emission trading programme. The Kasigau Corridor Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) project protects over 500,000 acres of forest and brings the benefits of direct carbon financing to Kenyan communities while also securing the entire wildlife migration corridor between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. Kenya Airways, through IATA will use the funds collected from the contribution by its customers to the Voluntary Carbon Offset Programme to support the Kasigau Project that is run by the Wildlife Works.”

It may just be the start but Muhati highlights that if there is one thing the Covid-19 pandemic has taught the world, it is how much we depend on each other including the health and food systems and the supply chain. It is also the reason why Kenya Airways is striving towards working on sustainable business practices starting now and going forward.

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