Aviation expert on what airlines need to do to remain competitive

The African Airlines Association (AFRAA) in November announced its picks for the best airlines in Africa in 2019—Kenya Airways for having the “best improved intra-Africa connectivity” in 2018 and Royal Air Maroc for its remarkable “financial performance and profitability.”

Kenya Airways introduced the highest number of new routes in 2018, including flights to Malindi, Mauritius and Mogadishu. The airline is also increasing capacity and frequency of flights to about a dozen other cities in Africa, including Cape Town, Zanzibar and Kigali.

The African Continental Free Trade Area came into effect in 2019, becoming the world’s largest free trade area by number of member states. By rewarding “intra-Africa connectivity,” AFRAA is encouraging its members to take advantage of it.

Kenya Airways’ award comes soon after the airline marked one year since it launched a non-stop flight from Nairobi to New York, cutting travel time between Africa and the US by at least seven hours. Now travellers no longer need to transit through European or Middle Eastern cities. The company announced that after just 12 months of operating the Nairobi–New York route, it has carried 100,000 travellers—a great success, it said.

Yet despite all these accolades, there is no denying that the airline, like many others in Africa, has gone through turbulent times. Surges in operating costs from ambitious expansion and rising fuel costs continue to eat into the airline’s profit. In the middle of this year, the airline posted a $740 million net loss after taxes in 2018, compared to a loss of $640 million for the period between April and December 2017. It has plans to re-nationalize and to explore public-private partnerships.

To some extent, the travails of the Kenyan carrier reflect the struggles faced in operating a profitable airline in Africa today.

High taxes, restricted market access, high operational costs—the cost of jet fuel runs 35% higher in Africa than in the rest of the world—are some of the challenges African airlines face, according to Abderahmane Berthe, Secretary General of AFRAA.

Africa represents 16% of the global population but accounts for only 3% of global air traffic, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). However, demand is slowly growing.

Over the last two years, it grew by an estimated 2%, a study by global air travel consultancy firm Sabre. Published in November 2019, the study also revealed that travellers are willing to spend up to […]

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