The humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa has brought a wealth of dedicated air cargo carriers to a continent that’s usually overlooked in airfreight circles. While some carriers are there simply to help out on a case-by-case humanitarian basis, a few airlines — like Maximus Air Cargo — are attuned to the economic improvements occurring in the region and eagerly anticipate expanding into this new cargo frontier.
Maximus Air Cargo has been shipping supplies to crowded refugee camps in the area, but also is planning to increase its presence in Africa beyond goodwill efforts. As with Saudi Airlines Cargo, Maximus has started to offer more services to Africa. “With Africa being our neighbor, it makes common sense to create more opportunities there, as the African continent is no longer that reliant on Europe for goods,” said Fathi Buhazza, Maximus’ president and CEO.
In anticipation of the increased exchange of goods, Buhazza is focusing on new opportunities in southern Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. Since Africa is still developing its manufacturing base, Buhazza expects a great deal of import activity will come in the form of manufactured goods; exports will consist of perishables.
Buhazza also notes that the point of the China Africa Business Forum, which is to be held on October 20 in Johannesburg, is to strengthen the trade lanes between the Asia-Pacific and Africa.
Some of this African expansion will be made possible by the recent delivery of the carrier’s first converted wide-body freighters. Buhazza said the new A300-600RP2F is the youngest Airbus passenger plane to be converted. The fleet additions will cut down on Maximus’ emissions, while offering a nonstop range of 2,650 miles. It’s all part of an AED350 million expansion program.
“The new aircraft will become a key part of our fleet and is expected to make a major contribution to building the strength and network of our business,” Buhazza said. He added that the planes will be a large help in expanding Maximus’ footprint in Asia and Africa.
Before carriers can offer new routes into a country, employees have to make sure the appropriate infrastructure and a measure of political stability is present. Unrest is an issue in some parts of Africa, but for the most part, the eastern portion of the continent is ready for increased business due to standards implemented by the Civil Aviation Authorities, Buhazza said.
Working in Africa is not without its challenges. In addition to needing additional infrastructure, it’s difficult to gain a foothold in the market. “With most of the main markets already established and controlled, unless one has a unique type of service and expertise, it would be quite difficult to break into the rest of the African market,” Buhazza said.
Buhazza also has to pay attention to current events in the Middle East. To him, the air cargo market in the Middle East is extremely competitive; added to this tight market, he said, are less-scrupulous operators who drive down prices by offering inferior services.
The Arab Spring political winds have started to die down, but the region is still very unstable. Governments seem to constantly be facing economic and political sanctions. “Under such [an] uncertain period, changes are indeed inevitable,” Buhazza said. “However, the most important thing for any business is that you have to learn to adapt to those changes.”