Following a recent statement made by IATA officials at a press briefing, the African aviation industry is said to experience a 51% reduction in traffic for 2020 which is set to possibly incur a $6 billion loss for African airlines and a $30 billion reduction in GDP for the region. Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines already share a loss of 6 million passengers with Ethiopian Airlines recording a half a billion loss ($550 million) for the first quarter of 2020. However, both airlines have made the necessary adjustments to stay afloat during this period and cater to the rise in demand for cargo services across the industry.

Kenya Airways

In April, the airline adapted four of its 787 Dreamliners for cargo capabilities. From that fleet, one of the 787s exported more than 40 tons of fresh produce and horticulture products to London and on its return carried back necessary medical items, industrial equipment, packaging materials and courier packages as published on Simple Flying.

The freight carrier market is not new to the airline as its subsidiary KQCargo holds the leading position in Africa‘s courier service and air freight market. However, on the back of staff shortages being experienced throughout the whole industry the subsidiary has also faced significant challenges due to its employees' response of ‘feeling uncomfortable‘ with the strict rules, travel measures and restrictions implemented by its government due to the coronavirus, which include a 14-day quarantine for returning members at special centres where the conditions are not so ideal.

The airline appealed to the Kenyan Ministry of Transport for its staff to be excluded from some of the restrictions but the CEO Allan Kilavuka went on to reiterate that they would follow strict protocols to ensure that its members remain safe and protected.

Ethiopian Airlines

Ethiopian Airlines has significantly increased its presence in the cargo market with more than 70 cargo destinations now being served as compared to the 10 destinations it served at the beginning of the year. The rapid surge in demand for medical supplies created an opportunity for Ethiopian Airlines to step in and fully utilise their cargo capabilities and operations. During March, the airline freighted more than 45,850 tons of cargo to various destinations around the world. According to Logistics Update Africa, on April 24 the airline‘s Boeing 777-F operated a one-time flight carrying 52 tons of perishables and flowers along an intricate route from Addis Ababa-Brussels-Oslo-Incheon-Hong Kong-Addis Ababa and on May 2, Ethiopian Cargo started its three-times-weekly service to Bangkok transporting essential supplies and masks. Currently, the airline is utilising a cargo fleet of Boeing 777s and Boeing 737s.

Since the start of the outbreak, the airline has become a central piece in the supply chain of medical essentials into Africa and as the largest airline in Africa, its reliance on cargo demand might just be enough to offset the losses in passenger revenue.

The CEO, Tewolde Gebremariam commented saying “We are now focusing on cargo. The cargo business is relatively doing well because urgently required medical supplies are needed all over the world from east to west, west to east, north, south and so on. We are also trying to convert some of our passenger aircraft to cargo.” The airline has 50 long-haul passenger aircraft available for cargo modifications.

Ethiopian Airlines has gone further and introduced an online cargo and logistics service to its customers through a mobile app adapted for iOS and Android users. This platform will allow its customers to track their shipments scheduled times as well as gain access to self-service features to enhance their customers’ experience.

Miretab Teklaye, Director Group Integrated Marketing Communications at Ethiopian was quoted on VoyagesAfriq saying. “As a customer-centric airline, we always seek ways to better serve our customers and bring more digital options to their fingertips. The newly unveiled cargo mobile app and chatbot-assisted cargo tracking service will bring convenience for our customers allowing them to access real-time updates about their shipments and to process their charter requests. As the number of mobile apps and messaging platforms users grow globally, we will leverage our in-house digital capabilities to further elevate our customers' experience by taking our digital service to the platforms of their choice.”