Astral Aviation ready to transport vaccines to and within Africa

By Roger Hailey

Kenya’s Astral Aviation is ready to support the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to and within Africa.

The Nairobi-hubbed airline, operating a fleet of 14 freighters, will use its scheduled network of 15 destinations within Africa and a further 50 destinations on charters for vaccine distribution. 

Astral Aviation is a member of both The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) and Pharma.Aero, whose joint Project Sunrays initiative offers cross-industry collaboration for pharma shippers preparing for the complex logistics of vaccine distribution.

Airline chief executive Sanjeev Gadhia said that Astral has transported thousands of tonnes of vaccines and pharma products on its fleet since launching 20-years ago.

Gadhia added that Astral has played an important role in various immunization programs in Africa and across the world including supporting efforts to tackle Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the cholera pandemic in Yemen.

Charles Ngwalla, who recently took up the position of alliances and key accounts manager at Astral Aviation, said that the carrier has transported in excess of 15,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE), testing kits and ventilators during the Covid-19 pandemic to over 40 countries in Africa.

In January 2021, Astral will take delivery of the first converted B767-200 freighter in Africa which, with a payload of 40 tonnes and 350 cu m, will offer on-demand charter services for vaccines to Africa.

The new arrival will complement Astral’s existing regional fleet of Boeing 727, McDonald Douglas DC-9, Fokker 50 and Fokker 27 freighters to provide onward final delivery from its Nairobi hub.

Astral’s modern Africa Freight Services Terminal at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is GDP-certified for pharma-handling and has a 3,000 sq m capacity cold Room racility with temperature ranges from two to eight degrees and up to minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Additional cold room capacity of 6,000 sq m is available airside within the freighter-friendly African airport, said Astral chief operating officer Michael Mutahi.

Alex Muhuyu, ground operations manager at Astral Aviation, said: “Astral’s Pharma Product, combined with the expertise of its pharma team, provides a reliable service for temperature-sensitive products across the network, which includes a safe re-packing and re-icing service, which will enhance the cool-chain value of vaccines for onward distribution within Africa.”

Said Gadhia: “Initiatives being developed by TIACA and Pharma.Aero, such as Project Sunrays, aim to help the air cargo industry get ready for the future handling, storage, and transportation of Covid-19 vaccines.

“Being a member of both Associations, Astral will have clarity on the needs and expectations from vaccine producers and share its experiences on the infrastructure constraints of distributing vaccines in Africa.”

He added that the much-anticipated distribution of vaccines from the first quarter of 2021 will require collaboration on a large scale between the vaccine manufacturers and all members of the supply chain, especially in Africa.

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