Thanks to Valentines Day, Kenya Airways increased cargo capacity after its rival, Ethiopian Airlines, was allowed to deploy more freighters to help carry Kenyan flowers to Europe.
The Kenyan airline adapted a passenger Boeing 787 Dreamliner to start carrying cargo, and help meet more flower orders. The conversion and increased flight frequencies will add as much as 40% capacity, the carrier’s Chief Executive Officer Allan Kilavuka said.
The government, which owns 49% of Kenya Airways, allowed the carrier’s competitor to deploy additional freighters on the Nairobi-Amsterdam route to ease capacity constraints. Kenya is Europe’s biggest supplier of cut flowers, which are one of its biggest foreign-exchange earners.
“As long as we have fresh produce which needs to be airlifted, we will continue licensing even foreign aircraft because what is most important is to have aircraft carrying produce from here,” Kenyan Transport Secretary James Macharia said on Monday. “It is secondary whether it is Kenya Airways or any other airline.”
“We still have a challenge with the freighters,” Kenya Flower Council Chief Executive Officer Clement Tulezi said. “We have talked to the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and they have allowed Ethiopia to come in and provide much more capacity every week because Kenya Airways could not give us everything we needed.”
For the cut-flower businesses of Kenya—long a key supplier for shops, weddings, and funerals in Europe and beyond—COVID-19’s impact has been particularly harsh. With restrictions on international flights and domestic transport, the business lost a key part of its logistics supply chain. And as weddings, funerals, and other public gatherings stopped or were severely curtailed around the world, demand for the product bottomed out. That meant many flower producers were forced to discard their unsold blooms.
As the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers, Kenya sells 70 percent of its flowers to Europe. The horticultural sector is Kenya’s third-largest foreign exchange earner. The flower industry directly employs 150,000 people and contributes 1 percent of the country’s GDP. According to the Kenya Flower Council, flower sales generated $960 million in 2019.
Cash-strapped Kenya Airways has struggled in recent years amid growing competition from Ethiopian Airlines and Middle Eastern carriers. The carrier’s troubles were exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that hit the aviation industry globally, with the government asking lawmakers to hasten a plan to fully nationalize the company. Lawmakers will start debating on the bill to nationalize the carrier this week.