Kenya Airways will double the size of its cargo fleet with the arrival this quarter of two Boeing 737-800 converted freighters from the United States, part of an effort to capture growing freight demand in Africa and the Middle East. 

Each plane is nearly 25% larger than the airline’s existing freighters, which essentially means Kenya Airways Cargo is adding 150% capacity.

The first 737-800 aircraft was delivered to Kenya Airways in mid-January, and the second will be ferried to the airline’s Nairobi base in a few weeks, said Robert Convey, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Miami-based Aeronautical Engineers Inc., which was responsible for transforming the used aircraft to carry containers rather than passengers.

Kenya Airways is acquiring the aircraft under long-term leases from GA Telesis, an aerospace services and leasing company also based in South Florida. GA Telesis, which began its freighter leasing business in 2021, said it acquired the aircraft last year and sent them to AEI to install the conversion kit, including a large cargo door. 

GA Telesis has secured a dozen conversion slots from AEI and used at least seven of them so far. Last year it sent two 737-800 cargo jets to Bluebird Nordic in Iceland.

Kenya Airways operates two Boeing 737-300 converted freighters, which are 25 years of age, around eastern Africa. The 737-800 received last month entered passenger service 22 years ago and was operated for several years by airlines in Russia, according to aircraft databases.

The 737-800s are being designated for extended-range routes. Kenya Airways in November said the new freighters will be deployed to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Dakar, Senegal; Lagos, Nigeria; Ndjamena, Chad; Mogadishu, Somalia; Mumbai, India; Free Town, Sierra Leone; and Monrovia, Liberia.

So far the first converted freighter has shuttled between Nairobi; Sharjah; Harare, Zimbabwe; and Lusaka, Zambia, with occasional stops in Mogadishu and Mumbai, according to Flightradar24. On Feb. 9, Kenya Airways began weekly service between Sharjah and Mogadishu and said the frequency would increase to twice per week in April. GSA Cargo LLC in the UAE is providing sales and logistics support for the route.

“UAE, being a multimodal logistics hub, acts as a primary gateway to Africa, and having a dedicated Kenya Airways Cargo freighter to offer this service helps cut transit times and offer scheduled main deck capacity into several remote destinations across the region. This service would cover a market characterized by narrowbody belly-only options, lengthy transit times, and expensive rates,” GSA Cargo CEO Kannan Nachiappan said in a news release.

The new aircraft offer up to 26 tons of cargo capacity versus 21 tons for the 737-300 and can fly up to seven hours.

Kenya Airways said the new free trade agreement among African nations is expected to spur more demand for air transport of fresh produce, textiles, electronics, pharmaceuticals and other goods.

Africa has a 2% share of the global air cargo market, according to the International Air Transport Association. Middle East carriers control 13% of cargo traffic. Demand in Africa dipped 1.8% in 2023 versus the prior year, but was up 6.7% against the 2019 baseline. 

Click here for more FreightWaves/American Shipper stories by Eric Kulisch.

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