Kenya Airways Set To Convert Boeing 787 Into Temporary Freighter

Moving further into the cargo and freight business during this period of reduced passenger activity, Kenya Airways has been granted approval to convert some of its Boeing 787s. With approval coming from Kenya’s Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) on Friday, this may allow the airline to fully utilize its fleet of nine Dreamliners. One-third of these widebody jets are currently listed as inactive.

Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner 5Y-KZC
The airlines’ fleet of 787s fly to destinations as far away as New York and Guangzhou. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | JFKJets.com

National approval granted

Business Daily Africa reports that the KCAA has approved Kenya Airways’ request to convert some of its widebody 787-8s into freighters. The recent approval comes weeks after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also granted the airline’s request.

To us, this indicates that we may see some cargo-only 787 flights between Nairobi and New York in the new future. The former is the airline’s main hub, and Kenya’s capital city and the latter is its only established US destination. Data from AirNav RadarBox indicates that Kenya Airways did fly to Atlanta sometime in the past year, which could be another possible cargo destination in the US.

“We have approved Kenya Airways request of turning the Dreamliner into a freighter and they can use it world-wide for cargo purposes,” -Gilbert Kibe, KCAA Director General via Business Daily

Kibe added the KCAA had approved just one aircraft as it was all that the airline had requested. With plans to convert two Dreamliners, another 787 will be approved later on, once the airline submits the application for it.

Kenya airways
Kenya Airways’ main hub of operations is at Nairobi’s international airport. Photo: Getty Images

At the height of travel restrictions, Kenya Airways was also using its 787s and their passenger cabins for cargo transportation. However, this was conducted without removing seats, severely limiting capacity as well as loading and unloading time.

The airline does have a tiny fleet of dedicated freighters in the form of two Boeing 737-300Fs. These joined the fleet in March and July of 2013. Of course, due to the fact that they are just 737s, they can only be used within the region and cannot be used for longer-distance operations.

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Conversion details

While this won’t be a full, permanent conversion, it will involve the removal of seats. Airlines around the world have been doing this, with Air Canada being among the first to remove seats and install nets and place floor-markings on the main passenger deck of a Boeing 777.

777 Cargo interior
Air Canada’s 777 modified for main-deck cargo use. Photo: Air Canada

The move by Kenya Airways is expected to support the national economy by boosting export capabilities– particularly the nation’s agricultural sector, which includes fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

Currently, utilization data from AirNav RadarBox indicates that Kenya Airways’ 787s have flown an average of just 1.8 flights per day, with an average of just 9.3 flight hours per day over the last 12 months.

After operating just 60 flights in April 2020 (all aircraft types), the airline has steadily recovered and made 1,449 flights in January 2021 – although this is still down from the 3,887 flights made in January 2020.

What do you think of Kenya Airways’ move to increase its cargo capabilities? Let us know in the comments.

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