FROM MAGAZINE: Mauritius: A future hub for East & South Africa
Air Mauritius turned 50 in 2017, and is going strong in the troubled African aviation sector. As 2019 records a memorable year for the flag carrier of Mauritius, from adding new fleet to hosting the 51st AFRAA AGA, the airline is in a bid to position the country as a hub for Asia-Africa trade, Shalini Nair reports.
Air Mauritius turned 50 in 2017, and is going strong in the troubled African aviation sector. As 2019 records a memorable year for the flag carrier of Mauritius, from adding new fleet to hosting the 51st AFRAA AGA, the airline is in a bid to position the country as a hub for Asia-Africa trade.
After completing its golden jubilee in 2017, Air Mauritius has branded itself as one of the strongest African airlines in the continent. As the year ends, the carrier has enough success stories to share on its 2019 journey.
After the airline successfully hosted the African Airlines Association's (AFRAA) 8th Aviation Stakeholder's Convention in May this year, it is now set to host the 51st AFRAA annual general assembly (AGA) & summit on November 10, replacing Camair-Co who was the initial host for the event.
Speaking about hosting the AFRAA AGA, an official from the cargo department of Air Mauritius, says, "We are thankful for the role that Air Mauritius has been called upon to play the host for AFRAA AGA. Moreover, as a small island developing state, being part of AFRAA is key for us to overcome the hurdles stemming from our insularity."
Recently, permission was granted by the South African Competition Commission to form a joint venture between South African Airways (SAA) and Air Mauritius to pool the revenue and costs associated with the provision of commercial passenger and cargo services on the route between Mauritius and Johannesburg and related destinations. The exemption has primarily been granted because it promotes exports from South Africa.
Currently, Air Mauritius uses Johannesburg (South Africa) and Nairobi (Kenya) as gateways into Africa. "Since aviation in Africa is more dominated by foreign airlines than local, we have special prorate agreements with several local airlines in Africa. We use Johannesburg and Nairobi as a hub to connect their flights. However, one of the challenges is cargo capacity as most of the local carriers are operating narrow-bodied aircraft. We also use trucking services to feed into other markets. Freighters are available to some destinations but remain an expensive option for the shipper. We normally propose all these solutions to our customers and leave them to choose their preferred option. We have also recently entered in an enhanced interline partnership with a freighter operator based in Nairobi to further extend our network in Africa," mentions the official.
In tandem with its development plan on the Johannesburg route, when OR Tambo Airport's state-of-the-art terminal will be ready by 2020, it will further give a boost to the airline's business. "This will be a very good opportunity for Air Mauritius to increase capacity into Johannesburg. We are also aiming to make Mauritius (Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport) the hub for Asia-Africa trade. Mauritius can position itself as a hub for both imports and exports with a long term vision of attracting pharma distribution and manufacturing activities for the Eastern African area and South Africa," informs the official.
The airline deploys more cargo capacity into South Africa which remains its main market in the continent. Air Mauritius has daily wide-bodied operations to South Africa and is further building Johannesburg and Cape Town as platforms to serve other African destinations. The carrier has two A350-900s and two A330-900neos in its fleet. These aircraft operate into Johannesburg with more cargo capacity than the A340s and A330-200s.
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport's fully automated cargo terminal
Air Mauritius has invested in building a state-of-the-art cargo terminal in Mauritius and has installed new security and screening machines with latest technology. In addition, the terminal has cargo handling system and warehouse management system. It is also equipped with scanners to track movement of mail traffic. These solutions have improved the speed and performance of the cargo terminal during exports, imports and transit. To create synergies right from the warehousing to temperature monitoring until the last-mile delivery, the carrier ensures that the cargo remains inside cold rooms as long as possible to reduce tarmac time.
"Recently, we introduced thermal pallet covers to protect our cargo during transit and transfers. We have also established a proper line of communication with all parties involved in sharing real-time information and this allows us to react and respond as quickly as possible to limit any impact," the official remarked.
Air Mauritius has invested heavily in training, equipment, and infrastructure to handle special cargoes. The demand for perishables and pharma has seen double digit growth in its network, thus making it constantly work on improving the level of service including speed, reliability, and communication. "Our aim is to reduce cargo dwell-time and speed-up the overall cargo movement through good connectivity. We also need to move further with digitisation in operations and commercial areas to the next level. We want to capture more commodities like pharma, perishables, and e-commerce within our network. We also aim to streamline the air cargo transportation process by standardising business processes and allowing automation through the use of standard electronic messages and providing real-time information to customers," he adds.
Commenting on India being one of Air Mauritius' prominent markets, the official says, "India is set to become one of the largest aviation markets in the world and even a global hub for pharma in the coming years. As such airlines, airports, aviation partners and authorities will have to continue working together to accommodate this accelerating growth. From suppliers, freight forwarders, trucking companies to final delivery at our handling agent, the movement of the goods is monitored constantly by our cargo team in India."
As of now, Air Mauritius has no plans for flying to new routes in the near future but there are plans to increase frequencies on existing routes. With regards to systems, Air Mauritius is planning to review its existing cargo reservations system and look for a new cargo integrated system that will streamline the business processes and allow better automation through integration of data from commercial, operations and accounting.
This story was originally published in Logistics Update Africa's November - December 2019 issue.