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China and Kenya leadersNAIROBI: Astral Aviation, the Nairobi-based all-cargo airline, will see its Eastern Africa network leveraged for the development of passenger services provided by China's HNA Group.

The agreement, which includes a shareholding in Astral by HNA, is part of a multifaceted accord between China and Kenya signed last week by Chinese premier Li Keqiang and Kenya president Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured right).

Initial reports suggest the US$50 million Astral/HNA tie-up will see the introduction of five Embraer 145 aircraft to link Nairobi with neigbouring Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Somalia and South Sudan where the airline has been operating a DC-9/B727 cargo network since 2001.

In addition to agreements on wildlife preservation, education grants and loans for increasing the country's electricity supply and airport infrastructure, China and Kenya have ratified the construction of a new rail link between the port of Mombasa and Nairobi at an estimated cost of US$3.6 billion. China's Exim bank will provide 90 percent of financing for the 42-month project that begins in October this year.

The single-track railway will be built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation and enable double-stack containers to cover the 610 kilometres in eight hours and passenger trains in 4.5 hours.

Commenting on the project president Kenyatta said: "Kenya and China's partnership in the development of the Standard Gauge Railway line will not only revolutionise the economy of our region, it will also reaffirm Kenya's status as the region's transport and economic hub.

"The colonialists laid the existing single-track railway line shortly after the turn of the 19thcentury. Today, it is an obsolete anachronism. The Standard Gauge Railway that we will jointly develop not only alerts the world to the fact that Kenya can now chart its own development path; it also makes it self-evident that we have a new and able partner in our march to the progress and prosperity that the future holds."

In addition to owning Hainan Airlines, HNA has invested in several niche carriers including Embraer 145 operator Africa World Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, Tianjin Airlines, Lucky Air, West Airlines, Yangtze River Express and My Cargo Airlines.

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