Kenya: KQ Goes for More Cargo Planes as Passenger Numbers Remain Low

18 January 2021

National carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) has continued to repurpose some of its wide body passenger aircraft into cargo planes to fill the gap caused by passenger shortfalls.

In its latest announcement, KQ says that so far, it has fully repurposed one Dreamliner for cargo transportation.

Managing Director Allan Kilavuka explained the impact of the move on Monday, during the signing of a commitment of collaboration with players in the fresh produce export business.

The MD said the airline decided to repurpose long haul aircrafts, which can fly to destinations as far as the US, Europe and Asia.

"[We will soon launch] a fully repurposed wide body Dreamliner. We have removed seats to increase the capacity for exports," Mr Kilavuka said.

"We have two of them. One will be complete this week and is waiting regulatory approval. The other should be done in the next one month or so. They will each have the capacity for an extra 10 tonnes per flight, meaning that if we do three frequencies per week, we will export an additional 60 tonnes per week."

Expanded fleet

The MD also disclosed that the airline is planning to either purchase or lease more cargo planes to add to its fleet, in its bid to expand cargo operations.

The airline has complained of depressed markets in the European Union and other parts of the world, which has diminished its fortunes, due to restrictions placed in those regions to combat Covid-19.

"Europe has not been a very good story for us, particularly because of the resurgence of the virus and the restrictions placed on incoming traffic. Europe, generally speaking, has been quite a struggle for us, particularly Amsterdam and Paris. London is also below average, and below what we expect from it, being one of our flagship routes," Mr Kilavuka said.

Even though the Asian markets, particularly India and China, have recorded a good performance, with many passengers flying to those destinations, the MD said there are still restrictions limiting numbers.

Financial impact

KQ has been relying heavily - by more than 90 per cent - on passenger operations to sustain its operations.

With the severe hit due to the limited number of people flying since the onset of the pandemic, it is now attempting to implement plans to grow its cargo business to about 20 per cent of its operations by 2026, from the current low capacity of between seven and 10 per cent of the business.

"We need to buy long haul freighters that are fully purposed for cargo and that, of course, will need financing. Progressively, we hope we will get three of those and increase our capacity," Mr Kilavuka said.

He noted, however, that the financing required to acquire the aircrafts will be very significant.

"We will have to look at whether to finance for a purchase or to lease."

The airline says it is going after long haul aircrafts that can sustain long flights to fly cargo across the world.

"We are looking for long-haul flights that can do New York, Europe and Asia. On top of the 40 tonnes that we are carrying currently, there will be an extra 10 tonnes that will be carried per aircraft," he said.

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