Astral Aviation, Hainan Airlines to launch East Africa flights by end 2014

Kenya’s Astral Aviation and China’s Hainan Airlines plan to launch regional passenger services by the end of 2014. Five Embraer ERJ 145 regional jets will be acquired for the joint venture which will be based in Nairobi.

Sanjeev Gadhia, Astral Aviation CEO.

Sanjeev Gadhia, Astral Aviation CEO.

The joint venture between Astral Aviation and China’s largest privately-owned airline is among business deals signed in Nairobi during the visit of China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang on 9 – 11 May 2014.

“We have 14 years experience doing cargo flights in the region, we are therefore not a completely new start up,” says Astral Aviation’s CEO Sanjeev Gadhia.

Astral Aviation is well-known for air freight services from its hub at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. “We have the experience to conduct passenger services,” says Sanjeev who is also Astral’s founder.

Though Astral Aviation sees passenger services as an opportunity for growth, the airline is practicing caution. “Passenger services are very capital-intensive and we are moving carefully by studying possible routes before announcing the destinations,” says Sanjeev.

The joint venture will however not operate domestic flights in Kenya. Sanjeev told us yesterday that the domestic market is already well served by existing operators.

The Astral – Hainan Airlines joint venture is scheduled to begin with flights in the eastern Africa region. Eventually – depending on the prospects for growth – flights could be extended to southern and western Africa.

Three ERJ 145 regional jets to be used in the partnership will be delivered to Kenya by the end of 2014. Two more are expected in early 2015. The aircraft have a seating capacity of 50. “The ERJ 145 has the right capacity for the joint venture,” explains Sanjeev.

China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang and President Uhuru Kenyatta observe the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Astral Aviation and Hainan Airlines parent company, the HNA Group. Photo by @H_Rotich.

China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang and President Uhuru Kenyatta observe the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Hainan Airlines parent company, the HNA Group, and Astral Aviation. Photo by @H_Rotich.

Hainan Airlines was founded in 1993 at Hainan Province, China. Since then, the company has set up seven flight operational bases in China and has a global network of almost 90 destinations including a few in Africa. By 2013, Hainan Airlines had 128 planes in operation.

Within Africa, Hainan Airlines went into partnership with Ghanaian investors to form Africa World Airlines (AWA). The Ghana-based airline operates several ERJ 145 to domestic and regional destinations.

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