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July 20, 2015

Sub-Saharan Africa: The Latest Updates from Africa's Airlines

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Let’s start moving with the times
African airlines have been through a tumultuous few years. Not only have many flag carriers – including South African Airways – received government bailouts on multiple occasions, but some have simply not survived the continent’s somewhat unfriendly skies. But, just as many a tough decision has been made, so have there also been a number of triumphs. Ethiopian Airlines, for instance, recently graduated over 150 airline trainees and has grown into Africa’s largest carrier. 

The industry still faces many challenges, however, as outlined in talks at this year’s Aviation Festival in late June. Demand for a route is the fundamental concern of airlines, with Erik Venter, CEO of Comair, saying, “It is expensive to open new routes in Africa. Volumes are lacking and, at the end of the day, opening a new route is about the economy of scale. Growth in the economy and demand for routes can happen naturally over a longer period of time, or by someone subsidising route projects.”

Aside from the issue of market development, certain African airports do not have adequate parking space for aircraft. Other problems plaguing Africa’s aviation industry include expenses and regulations, taxes, fuel problems and safety concerns. An example, cited in a recent report by eTN Global Travel Industry News, is ‘draculators’ in East Africa, regulators who keep low-cost airlines out of their skies to ensure there’s no competition, or those who hit tourism and aviation with taxes, despite evidence in studies done by International Air Transport Association (IATA), the UNWTO, and others, showing the negative impact of these taxes. Even the Africa Union has compounded the issue with its current budget estimate, trying to extract US$10 for arrivals and departures, and a US$1 tax on every bednight spent. 

According to IATA reports, the global passenger traffic results for May showed a strong demand growth compared to May 2014. Africa was the only region that did not report growth, but instead, traffic fell 3.9 percent compared to last year, most likely owing to adverse economic developments in certain parts of the continent. 

Nevertheless, the African market is expanding rapidly, with major potential in West Africa particularly. “Opportunities in Africa lie in the most feasible route,” Venter continues, “Nigeria is a massive market that is underserved. If they could get their market right and operations in order, Nigeria would be a potential investment.” The country does not have a low-cost carrier, making it a “blatant opportunity that no one is taking”. 

IATA Director General and CEO, Tony Tyler, offered the following advice at the IATA Africa and Middle East Aviation Day in Kenya: “Africa is set to be one of the fastest-growing aviation regions over the next 20 years, with annual expansion averaging nearly 5 percent. This opens up incredible economic opportunities for Africa. But aviation faces considerable challenges, and a focus on delivering the safety and connectivity commitments of the African Union, will be crucial to establishing Africa as a global aviation powerhouse.” 

He went on to urge governments to speed up a plan known as the Yamoussoukro Decision to open their airspace to local carriers by 2017. The plan was signed in 1999 by 44 states. “At the moment Africa punches below its weight in terms of connectivity with the rest of the world through African airlines,” he said. Tyler also told conference goers that the cost of fuel, which comprises nearly 30 percent of an airline’s costs, is more than 20 percent higher in Africa than elsewhere. “The opportunity here is for governments to cancel these unnecessary and penalising taxes,” he told a news conference, noting that the benefits of increased travel would outweigh the short-term loss of fuel tax revenue for states. Tyler cited safety, smarter regulation, infrastructure and environment as key challenges that need to be addressed across the continent. 

What’s New in Africa’s Skies?
So much has been happening in the continent’s aviation industry over the last few years. Not only have a number of airlines increased flights to popular attractions and tourist destinations, but a number of new carriers have also emerged. Here’s the lowdown: 

•    Kenya’s tourism has attracted another airline, with Skyward Express joining companies like Safarilink on the route from Nairobi to the northern Kenyan town of Lodwar. The newcomer will serve the route four times a week.
•    Ethiopian Aviation Academy graduated 155 aviation professionals in early July: 19 pilots, 49 aviation maintenance technicians, 42 cabin crew and 45 marketing trainees. The Academy is the foundation of Ethiopian Airlines, and, according to CEO Tewolde GebreMariam, their vision is to create a workforce of over 17,000 employees by 2025. 
•    Ghana’s government has been urged to bring back local carrier Antrak Air with a bailout. The troubled airline closed operations over two months ago because of high overheads. 
•    Lufthansa has increased capacity between Cape Town and Munic from five weekly flights to a daily, non-stop schedule for the summer season. Edelweiss, Switzerland’s leading leisure carrier will also connect Cape Town with Zurich non-stop twice a week from October 2015 to March 2016, while Lufthansa will upgrade its service between Johannesburg and Frankfurt with the Boeing 747-8, the next generation of the iconic jumbo jet. 
•    Qatar Airways has announced a new destination this year: Zanzibar. It is the airline’s third route in Tanzania following Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro. The airline is also adding frequencies to its popular routes including Djibouti and Luxor. 
•    South African Airways recently completed its 90-day Action Plan and is on its way to relative stability, according to Nico Bezuidenhout, Acting CEO of SAA. The company supports 33,000 jobs in South Africa, contributing US$900 million to the country’s GDP every year. Their goal is to increase revenue in the African region by 30 percent in the next 12 months. 
•    Abu habi Airports is in negotiations to build a new airport in the Seychelles. This will strengthen ties between the two states and increase tourism to the island state. 
•    Golfers in particular will be keen to fly non-stop from Vipingo Ridge to Wilson Airport in Mombasa, Kenya. Safarilink’s new route will cut hours off journey time, allowing passengers to fly from upcountry directly into Kenya’s number one golf resort. 
•    South Africa’s Garden Route, between the Eastern and Western Cape, has become one of Mango Airline’s top performing routes, with capacity growing between Joburg and Port Elizabeth by 200 percent in 2013/14. The airline’s market share between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth grew by 20.8 percent for the same period. 
•    SA Express recently launched routes from Johannesburg and Cape Town to renowned safari getaway, Sun City. The flights began in April this year and are part of a drive to boost domestic and international tourism to the North West province. 
•    Algerian flag carrier Air Algerie has received its third A330-200 Airbus as part of its acquisition programme of 16 new aircraft. The fleet renewal programme involves the acquisition of 7 Airbuses and 8 Boeing by the end of 2016.
•    Low-cost SA carrier, FlySafair, which was relaunched in October 2014, has introduced four new routes following traveller votes. The airline will add Cape Town-Durban, Cape Town-East London, Johannesburg-Durban and Johannesburg-East London routes to its schedule. 
•    Iron Maiden’s frontman Bruce Dickinson, who is also Chairman of Cardiff Aviation, will help Djibouti relaunch its former flag carrier.
•    Fastjet launched is fifth international destination out of Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam in late July with a twice weekly service to Lilongwe in Malawi. This follows routes to Johannesburg, Lusaka, Harare and Entebbe. 
•    Tanzania’s Auric Air has announced additional flights to Iringa, a place where few other airlines aside from expensive charters, fly to. 
•    Ethiopian Airlines, the largest airline in Africa, started flights to Cape Town at the end of June, its second destination in SA. It also started flights to Gaborone, Botwana, giving customers more and convenient connectivity options when travelling around the continent. 
•    Air Mauritius and SAA have strengthened their codeshare from a soft block to free flow, essentially paving the way for wider cooperation and collaboration between the airlines. 
•    Etihad Cargo has increased its freighter services to Africa with its cargo-only service to Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo. 
•    Germany’s Condor has announced the return of non-stop Munich-Mombasa flights, over and above their existing flights from Frankfurt to Mombasa, Kenya. 
•    SA’s newest low-cost airline, Skywise, took its first commercial flight in March this year. The carrier hopes to move over 25,000 passengers a month, and, together with FlySAfair, which captured 9 percent of the country’s market share in October 2014, broke the duopoly of SAA and Comair in South Africa. As a result, Mango has added two more aircraft to its fleet for higher domestic capacity. 

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