THE RACE TO REVIVE AFRICA’S NATIONAL AIRLINES
By Paul Ndiho
Air transport in Africa is critical in facilitating business, international trade, and tourism. Across the continent, several countries are racing to relaunch their defunct national carriers even though these airlines were not profitable and survived on government financial support to stay solvent. The International Air Transport Association says Ethiopian Airlines is arguably Africa’s most successful airline — it leads the continent’s air carriers in revenues, the number of aircraft, routes operated in Africa and profitability. Ethiopian Airlines has the goal to become Africa’s largest Airline by 2025.
Industry analysts say the growth of Ethiopian Airlines is outpacing its regional competitors to become Africa’s largest airline with a fleet of over 100 planes. The carrier services dozens of destinations in Africa, Asia, South America, and the United States.
“Airlines are now growing 5-6 percent, a maximum of 10 percent in any part of the world. But we are growing 20 percent plus. So this is impressive in any standard in the industry.”
Despite the success of Ethiopian Airlines, other regional carriers have not been as successful. The International Air Transport Association says the aviation industry overall is expected to make significant profits in 2019, but African airlines are projected to continue losing money.
For example, In 2017, Kenya Airways lost money despite cutting its losses by 51 percent to $97 million compared with $250 million posted the previous year.
Last October, Kenya Airways announced its first ever direct nonstop flight from Nairobi to New York. The carrier operates the route using the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft. The transatlantic flight is part of an effort to revive the airline’s fortunes, after it nearly collapsed, leading to a $2 billion restructuring in November that included a government bailout, which reduced the stake of Air France and KLM in the African carrier.
“This is, roughly this is 10 percent, this is going to increase 2019 revenues by roughly 10 percent of what we have today.”
South African Airways another intercontinental national carrier has also not been profitable. The airline has lost billions of dollars in the last seven years, recording a loss of $153 million in 2017. Critics say that without a government bailout, the airline unlikely to survive. However, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s is pledging to fully revive the troubled national carrier.
Uganda is trying to revive and relaunch Uganda Airlines, nearly two decades after the national carrier collapsed. Ephraim Bagenda is the CEO of Uganda Airlines.
“Commercial operation will start the beginning of July this year. And we will start with a few routes. We intend to have 21 destinations eventually, but we shall start slowly.”
Air Tanzania bounced back, announcing the purchase of a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner package valued at $224 million. It’s slated to be flagship aircraft for Air Tanzania fleet – ‘The Wings of Kilimanjaro.’ The 787 is costly to maintain and could cost Tanzanian taxpayers millions of dollars.
Later this month Air Tanzania – Boeing 787-8 will launch four weekly flights between Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg and in July 2019 another additional flight between Dar es Salaam and Mumbai.
RwandAir, the state-owned flagship carrier of Rwanda, operates domestic and international flights across Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Asia from its headquarters at Kigali International Airport. But some critics say RwandAir may be too optimistic with its financial expectations and is operating on losses.