National carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) has leased two planes to Congo Airways and entered into a cargo codeshare deal.
The lease agreement, involving Embraer E190 jets, comes as KQ starts direct cargo flights between Johannesburg, South Africa and Lubumbashi, the third largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Mr Allan Kilavuka, the carrier's managing director, said the cargo flights were part of its expansion bid across the continent.
The airline targets to progressively raise cargo operations to about 20 per cent of its capacity, up from the current 7 per cent.
"KQ is a key player in the aviation space in Africa, and with over 40 years of experience, this is an important step in enhancing cooperation to increase air connectivity and offer greater passenger and cargo options between the two countries. The timing of this agreement is correct, considering the severe impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry, as it will increase the utilisation of our aircraft,” Mr Kilavuka said.
He added that the move marks the start of Kenya Airways' pan-Africanism journey which will be actualised through cooperation with other airlines.
KQ will also offer courses at its Pride Centre to ensure skills transfer between the two airlines, it said.
“Cargo has provided new opportunities in the face of the pandemic, and we are keen to continue building our operations and leveraging partnerships,” Mr Kilavuka said.
The deal comes just months after KQ and Congo Airways signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Kinshasa.
“Increased air connectivity will offer more choices to passengers in the DRC and between the two countries. It will also provide better connectivity to international destinations, enabling both countries to fly to a better future and build a resilient aviation industry that can stand the test of time,” said Congo Airways’ CEO Pascal Kasongo Mwema Mwenda.
The new partnership also comes against the backdrop of aviation industry losses across the world in the wake of the pandemic.
The International Air Transport Associations (IATA) estimates that African airlines suffered a combined loss of $2 billion (over Sh200 billion) due to reduced passenger travel in 2020.
KQ alone incurred a Sh36.2 billion loss in 2020, marking the worst performance in its history as the Covid-19 pandemic took a toll.
For the half-year of 2021, the carrier narrowed its net loss to Sh11.5 billion, an improvement in its performance compared to Sh14.3 billion loss recorded during a similar period in 2020.
“This will provide customers with more convenient schedules and capacity at a time when the global industry has suffered capacity shortfall due to the pandemic as well as improve profitability of KQ’s regional freighters on the return sector from Johannesburg,” Mr Kilavuka said while launching the Johannesburg-Lubumbashi cargo operations on Monday.