Indian air cargo to Africa is increasing at a steady rate of about 15-20 percent per year, with the country exporting approximately 6,000 tonnes of goods and merchandise by plane to the vast continent every month.
Most of the cargo is transported on African air carriers and some European airlines for the reason that there are practically no Indian airlines that have direct flights from India to African cities.
Almost 55 percent of the air cargo is flown by Africa-owned air companies while the rest is transported by Middle East and European airlines, with the export consignments transiting through a third country while on their onward journey to Africa, according to trade sources.
In earlier years, Indian air exports mainly went to South Africa and the East African region, India's traditional trading partners. But in recent years as exports have increased, Indian products have penetrated new markets in central and western Africa.
Pradeep Dixit, vice president international operations, Allied Aviation International, explained, "About 35 percent of Indian exports go to East Africa, 25 percent is bound for South Africa, another 25 percent goes to Central Africa and 20 percent reaches Central Africa."
A large part of the Indian exports by air leave the country from Mumbai and Ahmedabad airports, forming almost 45 percent of the total air exports to Africa.
Exports through the southern cities of Hyderabad and Chennai account for another 45 percent; they are mainly in the form of auto parts, mobiles and pharmaceutical products. A smaller consignment of about 600 tonnes is dispatched from Delhi - these are mainly vaccines, textile products and some medicines.
Extra large consignments are carried on bigger aircraft and are transported by air charter companies or sent through European hubs such as Frankfurt, Brussels and London-Heathrow Airport.
Commodities like pharmaceuticals and medicines, steel products, auto parts, engineering goods and spare parts, textiles and chemicals form a major part of Indian exports to Africa.
Increasing Indian investment in Africa has led to a growing demand for air cargo. But Indian air companies are looking at air passengers and rarely take air cargo into account when they make their strategic plans, said an exporter to Africa.
"Obviously, if there were direct Indian flights to Africa I would choose to send my cargo consignments by them, instead of routing them through Europe, spending more money taking a circuitous route and much more time to reach the destination," he said.