Kenya’s national carrier Kenya Airways is seeking to play a role in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in Africa.
The airline is banking on its stature as a well connected airline in Africa to take the vaccines to every region on the continent using its networks and cargo routes.
Kenya Airways chief executive officer Allan Kilavuka said cargo business is now the airline’s lifeline. The airline has been relying on cargo flights to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic that has paralysed the global travel, tourism and aviation sectors.
Mr Kilavuka said the national carrier prepared early for a role in taking the vaccines to various countries.
“Even before the vaccine was announced, we had set up a cold room in Nairobi at our cargo centre which can store heat sensitive products like medicines,” he said.
“Our plan is to see how we can support the distribution of these vaccinations across Africa because we fly to 46 destinations worldwide but majority are in Africa.”
“When we stopped flying during the Covid-19 pandemic, the only business line that was giving us a lifeline was cargo and it has continued to do so. We have seen opportunities and we want to invest more,” he added.
In an interview in Mombasa, he said cargo is a viable business opportunity for the airline. Currently, KQ is repurposing two of its Dreamliners to create space for cargo, with Mr Kilavuka saying globally, there is a shortage of aircraft to transport the vaccines.
“There will never be too many aircrafts or vessels to transport these vaccinations because they are needed speedily. They need to be transported in a safe environment and in the correct temperatures. We have demonstrated our ability to transport such products,” he said.
“We are working closely with governments around the world and that of Kenya to distribute the cargo. We will look for opportunities and ensure we are the pride of Africa. We are moving a lot of cargo on a weekly basis.”
He said the 787 Dreamliner which started ferrying goods from Mombasa to UAE two weeks ago was repurposed for cargo.
“We have seen opportunities in cargo and we want to invest more. We have 30 tonnes of cargo but the flight can carry 42 tonnes so there's more space. We want to fly products out of here to different parts of the world,” he said.
Recently, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary, Najib Balala said cargo is the only segment that can sustain aviation during the pandemic.
However, he decried how air transport in Africa is perceived to be a luxury to be enjoyed by the elite.
“The pandemic has exposed the importance of air connectivity. It should be a public requirement like the train and buses. It’s time for us to seriously give support air travel,” Mr Balala said. “Tourism will not recover without air travel. We need to make sure things are done properly. With international arrivals 65 percent down, cargo is the only opportunity.”
The CS said global airlines such as Lufthansa are gearing up to start transporting vaccines.
“Has Africa started making plans such as that? How do we build capacity to ensure our local airlines seize the opportunities instead of allowing the foreign airlines?” he asked on November 19 during a webinar on tourism recovery for the continent.