In the midst of global economic challenges in 2023, African cargo carriers stood resilient, showcasing remarkable strength and untapped potential within the continent.
Traditionally viewed as a primary import market, especially for goods from the Far East, Africa is experiencing a dynamic shift.
According to aircargoweek.com, the diverse markets within the continent are adapting to evolving demands, undergoing transformations in the types of products they specialize in. This shift not only highlights the adaptability of African economies but also signifies a promising era for cargo carriers across the continent, poised for continued growth and exploration of untapped opportunities.
Take South Africa, for instance; a decade ago, it was a major supplier of melons to Europe. Over time, this shifted to string beans and, more recently, berries. These changes are largely influenced by seasonal variations. In the case of Nairobi, their specialisation lies in flowers, predominantly roses.
Market preferences evolve and Morocco is a noteworthy example, embracing farming and developing into a hub for organic produce. This shift is reflective of global trends, with perishable items like apricots finding their way into markets, such as the UAE.
“Africa has always been developing. You’re going to have these flows of pharmaceuticals and technology companies moving into Africa. You might see market changes with what’s happening globally,” Grant Kemp, Etihad Cargo’s Area General Manager – EMEA region, stated. “This is why I love Africa – nothing is stable. Africa is Africa.”
Passengers open the door
When considering the development of the airfreight industry in Africa, Etihad Cargo, as a primarily passenger airline, examines flows across the region to identify the best routes to service for customers and cargo.
“Expanding across Africa, Etihad Cargo has selected key destinations within emerging markets to meet the rising demand,” Kemp added. “We’re reliant on passenger aircraft, as we only have five freighters, but through 2024 we’ll see a lot more diversity within product movement.”
When it comes to cargo destinations within Africa, South Africa is by far the strongest. Kenya stands out as a close second for imports, with Nigeria being a potential candidate.
“For instance, looking at Egypt and Ethiopia, which is the largest growing country, we don’t necessarily focus solely on flocking to these locations. Instead, we are exploring the possibility of supporting Nairobi as an outlier. For Kenya, Etihad Cargo has recently announced the initiation of daily passenger flights to Nairobi and three times a week to Mombasa,” Kemp highlighted.
Multimodal moves to avoid disruption
Given the risk of instability and disruption to the supply chain in African nations, be that through conflict or, as seen during Covid, border closures for medical reasons, cargo carriers need to be ready to adapt at short notice to keep cargo flowing.
Etihad Cargo has strategically established a “spider web” network. To illustrate, consider Johannesburg and South Africa as key components of this network, intricately connected through various trucking operators, allowing for a seamless flow. Ground operators play a pivotal role in operations, navigating the complexities, particularly in Central Africa amid instability and security concerns.
This approach seamlessly aligns with Etihad Cargo’s approach toward partnerships in the region, such as the collaboration with Astral Aviation. This strategic alliance taps into the invaluable on-the-ground knowledge possessed by regional operators. Collaboration allows Etihad Cargo to penetrate markets where their partners have expert knowledge.
“I’ve set up the region spider web,” Kemp outlined. “Communicating with partners is one way to tap into markets and steer clear of potential hurdles. Local airlines and experts will open up Africa for us.”
Five years down the line, we’ll probably bring about 10 new destinations into Africa, as we receive more demand,” he continued.