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Gateway to Africa

Airport infrastructure is often a challenge at many of Africa’s airports, but with cargo volumes increasing, development needs to be fast tracked, as Keith Mwanalushi finds out

In January 2018 the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published its report on air freight demand in 2017 and found that African carriers posted the fastest growth in year-on-year freight volumes, up 15.6% in December 2017 and a capacity increase of 7.9%. This contributed to an annual growth in freight demand of 24.8% in 2017 – the fastest growth rate of all regions.


The report revealed that this is only the second time African airlines have topped the global demand growth chart since 1990. It further reads that demand was boosted by very strong growth in Africa-Asia trade which increased by more than 64% in the first eleven months of 2017.


Much of the traffic however is still carried by non-African carriers. Air France KLM Martinair Cargo is a notable player on the African air freight scene. “Since the beginning of the summer 2018 schedule, we have opened a new Air France route to and from Nairobi operating three times a week with a 787 Dreamliner, allowing us to offer more capacity to our customers in the East Africa region where demand is strong,” comments Manuel Weill, Vice President Area, Africa Caribbean Indian Ocean at Air France KLM Martinair Cargo.


These flights are operated on a code-share basis with partner Kenya Airways totalling 10 weekly non-stop frequencies between Paris and Nairobi, with three flights operated by Air France and seven operated by Kenya Airways.


This recent Air France service is in addition to that of KLM, which operates a daily service between Amsterdam Schiphol and Nairobi also deploying Boeing 787s. The link to Nairobi will connect to around 23 regional destinations as a result.


Cooperation between the three airlines is paving way for a new Joint Venture (JV) that should see several synergy benefits. “Yes, Air France has joined the historical KLM Kenya Airways JV, this alliance being an asset to be able to offer to our client’s different opportunities from and beyond Nairobi.


“Our freighters have a strong presence in Africa with no less than 12 countries having a freighter flight operating at least once a week,” adds Weill.


There are several airport development projects on the continent from Zambia to Togo and elsewhere with the aim of improving the management of freight and ultimately increasing those volumes. For instance, construction of Senegal’s new Blaise Diagne International Airport in Dakar has taken over 10 years, costing a reported $575 to build.


However, aviation experts have often said many African airports lacked an integrated approach to develop cargo. Weill feels cargo seems to always to be a ‘by-product’ of airports contextual design when it comes to cargo. “A nice example is that of the new airport in Dakar opened last December – the cargo village is still not operational,” he says.


Also, in respect to cargo diversifying in terms of offering seamless logistics supply chain management, Weill observes that airports are still developed for loose load delivery or collection. However, he says the industry is heading towards fast tracking deliveries which causes challenges in terms of delivering shipper built ULD’s and the design layout isn’t always compatible with this requirement, in turn causing its own challenges and bottle-necks.


The location of cargo warehouses in correlation to where the freighter’s ramp (parking bays) is also critical. Or indeed the terminal parking bays for passenger flights. “If not strategically located, this can lead to cargo getting damaged en route to the aircraft and poses either load ability issues, security problems [in terms of pilferage] and timing issues in getting the cargo to the required parking bay timeously for loading. Adequate and good quality roads from cargo to tarmac is also important to deliver quality pallets to the aircraft,” notes Weill.


There are, obviously, examples where the planning process has been thoroughly thought through. At Ethiopian Airlines’ cargo division, the new state of the art Cargo Terminal 2 is just one. Inaugurated on 29 June 2017, and when combined with the existing terminal, it gives the operation a total tonnage capacity of around 1 million per annum which is the largest in Africa. This milestone, as the company puts it, makes Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics Services one of the world’s largest cargo terminals; comparable with cargo terminals in Amsterdam Schiphol, Singapore Changi or Hong Kong.


The new terminal covers an area of 40,000m2 for the warehouse facility of which the dry cargo warehouse lays on 22,000m2 and the perishable warehouse lays on 18,000m2. Whereas, the major areas of the terminal are the apron, the office building and the land side parking area placed around 68,886m2, 10,000m2 and 20,400m2 respectively. The new warehouse is equipped with modern cargo handling equipment having eight Elevating Transfer Vehicles (ETV) and seventy Workstations for import, export and transit.


“We are currently moving the operation phase by phase to the new terminal so that we have a seamless transition,” declares Fitsum Abady, Managing Director at Ethiopian Cargo & Logistics Services.


Abady hesitates in attributing the recent surge in uplift purely because of the new terminal expansion since it’s not yet fully operational. “But we are confident there will be enhanced service as well as cargo volumes in the period ahead. In addition, we are seeing our partners being motivated to develop new products and markets and they see our cargo hub as an opportunity, we are seeing lots of requests related to e-commerce and bonded warehouse rental,” Abady reveals. >>


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