Growing trade in perishables drives new cargo connections to Africa

Cargolux’s 747Fs will soon become a regular sighting at Lubumbashi and Douala

Luxembourg-based Cargolux Airlines today announced it would soon begin serving two new destinations in Africa, with flights to Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo launching on 15 September, and service to Douala in Cameroon following soon after, on 3 October. Although the carrier expects to ferry a mix of commodities to-and-from Lubumbashi and Douala, both outbound flights are expected to funnel perishables exports into Europe.

Chronic droughts in Southern Europe have taken a toll on harvests in Italy and Spain, leaving much of the broader European continent increasingly reliant on air imports to maintain a steady supply of fruits and vegetables. Imports of staple grains like soft wheat are expected to jump by 40 percent y-o-y, for the marketing year 2017-2018 according Agroinfomarket. Such commodities will move into Spain by sea, or overland modes of transportation, but the shortage is indicative of just how scarce less-resilient, and highly-perishable crops are this year. In some cases, even lower-value crops are ending up on an aircraft. Holland has imported tonnes of fresh peas, while Britain-bound flights from the United States have recently been carrying iceberg lettuce—products that in normal years could have been trucked from the Mediterranean.

Returning to the new Cargolux flights, when service to Lubumbashi commences on 3 October, it will become Cargolux’s 35th destination on the African continent. Road feeder services in Cameroon’s largest city, Douala extends the catchment area to include the metropolitan area of the country’s capital city, Yaoundé, while flights to Lubumbashi will complement existing flights to the DRC’s largest city, Kinshasa. From Lubumbashi, return flights are routed via Johannesburg, Nairobi, and Stansted.

In other regional news, the South African air cargo market may soon encounter turbulence as its flag-carrier, South African Airways struggles to enact a massive restructuring plan. Yesterday, the carrier announced plans to axe some regional flights, and to dump 20% of its fifty-unit fleet. SA Express, a state-owned affiliate of  South African Airways, which has been deeply involved in the regional air cargo market, is equally exposed to financial woes and inefficiencies plaguing SAA.

In July of this year, ACMI and charter operator Solenta Aviation lodged an application to liquidate the assets of SA Express, after the carrier failed to repay some US$6.5 million in leasing debts for three ERJ-145s it had leased from Solenta in 2016. Two attempts to resuscitate the company – one by the government, and a separate attempt from Chinese financed startup, Fly Modern Ark – also failed, prompting Fly Modern Ark to move forward with plans to launch its own operations, independent of SA Express, with a fleet of Chinese-made MA-60s.

Earlier this month, Fly Modern Ark lodged its AOC application to the South African Air Services Licensing Council in hope of gaining the right to operate flights previously operated by SA Express. With funding from the China Development Bank, Fly Modern Ark has already inked a deal with AVIC for twelve turboprop aircraft – ten MA-600 passenger airliners and two MA-600 freighters.

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