African Roundup October – November 2014
There was a time when South African Airways was all powerful in its southern African domains and could seemingly do no wrong. From the late 1940s it was a dominant player on routes to Europe, usually flew superior equipment compared with its competitors ( DC 4s against Yorks and flying boats, DC7Bs against Constellations, Boeing 707s v Comet 4s). It expanded its reach to the USA and Far East and even in the days of sanctions its levels or service and reliability and the relative ease of use of its Johannesburg hub enabled it to dominate central and southern Africa. Its management was conservative but hard headed and expansionist. Its fleet acquisition policies sound and relatively risk averse. The company tended to stick with what it, its crews, engineers and ground staff knew and what worked and did it very well. Its engineering was world class. All a bit boring maybe but its customers didn’t mind that and many made the detour via Johannesburg just to fly with them.
Then came the new world, both in South African politics and management fashions. Expensive outsiders, with no past baggage or long term interests arrived to ring the changes. In came shoals of Airbuses, including the A340, and out went the Boeings on which several generations of expertise had been built up. The deals looked good but carried immense new learning curves and the associated costs of those. Politically the new South Africa brought the challenge of achieving essential and immense changes in the work force, something requiring time, wisdom and commitment.
At the same time the new South Africa, free of trade sanctions, meant unprecedented waves of new and shiny competition. SAA’s two competitors in Africa, Ethiopian and Kenya Airways have grown out of all recognition and Kenya in particular reinvented itself if a little precariously. They offer much of the continent a plethora of intra-African and intercontinental high frequency connections without time consuming back tracking. Next, to add to the pain, just at the moment when SAA must have thought the brave new world belonged to them, along came the new generation Gulf airlines and now Turkish. With them came the redefinition of networks, hubs and every aspect of customer service and care. Even the American and European legacy carriers look on with open mouths as today’s benchmarks suddenly become last year’s model. Just when you thought you were getting somewhere….
Against this tsunami-like background it is no surprise that SAA repeatedly seems fated to a life of difficulty and turmoil. This is partly the result of its poor geographical position being glaringly exposed and partly due to a plethora of self inflicted woes.
Of the first, being stuck in a cul-de-sac at the very bottom of Africa would always be a problem for an aspiring hub carrier. Inevitably SAA’s network lies very largely to the north plus a bit out along the arms to Australasia, Asia and the Americas. Historically the airline’s reach for connecting long haul traffic has been limited to a 2 hour arc embracing Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and (just) Angola with a lot it it driven by a preference for transiting Johannesburg airport rather than Nairobi in particular. Kenya’s ability to lose transfer baggage and the attitude of some of its officials, including security operatives on the lookout for money were much talked about. Now with the Johannesburg passenger and baggage experience deteriorating , Addis and Nairobi improving and the glitzy Gulf airports being another world entirely ,Ethiopian, Kenya Airways, the Gulf carriers and Turkish make a back haul via Johannesburg just unattractive.
Of SAA’s self inflicted wounds, the long-running Board turmoil is a fine example. The net result is a carrier with ever deepening debts and its auditors declaring it “not a going concern” . In short it’s bankrupt. The declared operating loss for 2012-3 is US$92million. The 20-year Transition Plan, including a request for US$600milion support, presented to Government in April last year has made no visible progress, to the growing frustration of sole shareholder, the Government, in particular new Public Enterprises Minister, Lynne Brown.
Last month 6 members of the SAA Board were replaced en-masse. A few days later the Chairman suspended the CEO who remains ‘on leave of absence’ despite the Public Enterprise Minister directing his re-instatement. Nico Bezuidenhout, CEO of SAA subsidiary Mango, has now been appointed interim CEO returning to the role he filled last year following the ousting of a previous CEO. In that first appointment he presented the 20-year Transition Plan to Government with the memorable quote that each of the previous 9 such plans was triggered because 60% of recommendations of its predecessors were never implemented.
Bezuidenhout has moved quickly with the presentation of a draft 90-day recovery plan focusing on a reduction of loss-making routes (all long-haul services are loss-making) and a re-negotiation of aircraft leases, in particular the A340-600s. US$118million annual saving is mentioned. Fleet renewal with possible A350 and B787 types is a pressing need. Meanwhile Government has yet to offer cash and other guarantees to enable the business simply to continue trading. Assuming this is eventually forthcoming the target for the Board and CEO in tandem is to better the historic 60% implementation failure rate. To quote Bezuidenhout “It is challenging”.
Historically the continent’s airlines had a single business model, – That of a national carrier owned by a Government. Most eventually folded, the pace usually being linked to the degree of Government meddling in commercial decisions and appointments and the rate at which losses were accumulated. Local private operators did spring up but cash difficulties relentlessly took their toll. Today’s picture has echoes of the past, eg, limping Air Tanzania, but new models are evolving, eg low cost carriers, with Fastjet potentially being the biggest game-changer. The big gap to be filled is that left by a failed national carrier such as Air Afrique, Nigeria Airways, Ghana Airways and Zambia Airways. The initial hue and cry is always for them to be replaced like for like (and disastrously with the same people and their cohorts, hangers on and the rest who brought them to their knees in the first place). Fortunately the market eventually makes the decision and somebody puts the black cap on. Air Afrique with its 11 individual Government shareholders could never be replaced. Eleven governments agreeing and keeping their hands off decision-making? No chance. Nigeria Airways has the look-alike privately owned Arik but has been denied ‘national airline’ status by Government. Despite some aspirations and even attempts, Ghana and Zambia are without replacements although small privately owned domestic carriers have evolved. Of most interest, the Zambian Government has granted 5th Freedom rights to both African and foreign operators to get all the regional connectivity it can at no cost to itself. Six carriers now operate between Lusaka and Harare. The Ugandan Government has so far followed the same path following the demise last month of Air Uganda by granting regional rights to Ethiopian Airlines and to Fastjet thereby giving Entebbe 4 new regional routes. Governments who fear isolation without a ‘national carrier’ should sleep more easily.
1. EAST AFRICA
Air Uganda As previously reported, the Board has decided to disband the company citing “irreparable damage to the company’s image” caused by the prolonged UCAA delay in renewing its controversially cancelled AOC plus the granting of 5th freedom Entebbe-Juba rights to regional competitors Ethiopian and Rwandair.
Eritrean Airlines is wet-leasing an A320-200 to add to its single B767-300.
Ethiopian Airlines continues its expansion with plans to open a route to Los Angeles via Dublin in mid-2015. Useful 5th freedom rights between Dublin and Los Angeles are included. This builds further on its Toronto and Washington routes.
Receiving AFRAA’s Airline of the Year award CEO Tewolde Gebremariam , long time advocate of Africa making the best possible use of its own home grown resources, when receiving AFRAA’s Airline of the Year award urged member carriers to recognise and use skills and services available on the continent, notably in engineering and training, and pressed governments to urgently to free-up reciprocal route rights and frequencies for regional carriers.
Meanwhile the carrier may be linked with the proposed new South Sudan (niche) carrier.
Fastjet Following an interview with CEO Ed Winter, CCO Richard Bodin and CFO Nick Caine, we will cover this always interesting carrier in a separate post. Suffice it to say they are undaunted by the scale of their task and determined to stay the course.
Interstate Airways (S Sudan) has wet-leased 2 CRJ100 for Juba based operations.
Jambojet (Kenya) Kenya Airways LCC subsidiary plans the replacement of its 3 strong B737-300 fleet with B737-700s, presumably also from its parent, Kenya Airways. There are no signs yet to expand beyond the April 2013 start-up network of Nairobi-Kisumu, Eldoret and Mombasa. This seems to indicate that conceptually it has for the moment at least hit the same buffers as its predecessor, Flamingo, constrained by the parent and an uncertainty about exactly what it is meant to do at least until any competing low cost carrier, notably Fastjet, challenges it in Kenyan cross-border markets.
Kenya Airways. CEO Titus Naikuni retired after 11 years on 31st October. He has had a good innings. He inherited the airline in fundamentally good shape. It had successfully navigated the September 11th global downturn, ordered the 777-200s, was about to open up to the Far East, modernised its branding, realistically replaced its regional F class with J class, converted its B 767 J seats to flat beds and embarked on an outward looking programme. His personal presence, well used political and business network and charisma were welcome additions to the role and the profits achieved since privatisation continued.
His successor, Mbuvi Ngunze faces a tougher proposition. Not quite a hospital pass but more a nudge towards the first aid tent maybe, this is certainly not an easy moment to take over after eighteen months as COO .The West African routes are affected by the ebola outbreak, Kenyan beach tourism in particular has been hit by images of insecurity along the coast, the terminal fire destroyed the Nairobi arrivals area and disrupted the hub operation and the Westgate shopping mall shootings frightened many away from the country. Black ink has turned to red. The upsides for him though include the replacement of the mixed bag of 767-300s by new 787-8s with 6 delivered and 3 more to come (time to firm up on a few more?),and the opening of the airline’s dedicated departure and transfers terminal at Nairobi. Maybe there will be some downturn- driven realism from its unions too?
Network-wise , Delhi has been dropped. As we have mentioned before,- a 7 hour sector in a narrowbody 737-800 may just not be saleable to a market which has other choices.
Precision Air remains determined to solve its own problems. One measure on offer is US$40m in exchange for an equity stake. It is also considering the sale and leaseback of 5 ATRs which could raise up to US$80m.
Rwandair has ordered an additional Q400 and another Boeing 737-800NG added Mwanza on Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania, to its network with a thrice weekly Q400 frequency.
SAX Tanzania .This projected low cost carrier is anticipating an end of year start-up with a single Q400. The majority shareholder is said to be Don Smith of Fly540 Kenya.
2. SOUTH / CENTRAL AFRICA
Air Congo (Rep of Congo) is to benefit (?) from an order placed by Government for 3 new Comac ARJ21s to add to its existing fleet of MA60s. So far as we know this aircraft is new to Africa which means that manufacturer support is likely to be needed for some time.
Congo Airways (DRC) In April Govt announced the creation of new national carrier to replace insolvent LAC, Lignes Aeriennes Congolaises, due for liquidation. An unspecified ‘technical partner’ is to be a shareholder alongside Govt and local citizens. Air France Consulting has now presented a business plan.
flyafrica.com (Zimbabwe) Regulatory problems with CAA Zimbabwe caused the first flight to be delayed from of 23 July until to 3rd November. They plan to operate thrice weekly between Victoria Falls and Johannesburg with a B737-500 and then start domestic flights from Harare to Bulawayo and Victoria Falls by the end of this year.
flyafrica.com (Namibia), allied to the above, is aiming to startup in March 2015, first linking Windhoek and Johannesburg in joint venture with Nomad Aviation of Namibia. Flyafrica Ltd, is a Mauritius-based private equity aviation investment group whose aims may not be dissimilar to Fastjet’s.
FlySafair (S Africa) Having met regulatory ownership restructuring requirements this low cost carrier launched B737-400 services from Cape Town to Johannesburg on 16th October and quickly expanded its network to include Port Elizabeth and George .
Kulula (S Africa) This lively low cost subsidiary of Comair has agreed a codeshare arrangement with Air France. A similar agreement was signed with Kenya Airways earlier this year. There is no indication of what Comair’s franchisor,BA, thinks of these arrangements.
LAC (DRC) This company is now believed to be non-operational and in the process of liquidation by its sole shareholder, DRC Govt, which has back from maintenance the sole aircraft, a B737-200. Air France Consulting has presented a business plan for a new national carrier, Congo Airways.
Malawian Airlines launched twice weekly Lilongwe – Beira Q400 services on 12th November. This adds to current Mozambique flights to Tete and Nampula.
Mango SAA’s Low Cost subsidiary is claiming a 2013-14 profit of US$3.6mn based on a 42% revenue growth. It anticipates receiving 2 additional B737-800s from SAA and some domestic route growth. Fleet renewal is slated to start in 2021.
SAA Further to our headline item here are some further details of goings on in and around the airline. First up, Public Enterprise Minister Lynne Brown created an ‘interim board’ removing 6 members and appointing 2 new ones. Chairperson Ms Duduzile Myeni continues in her role. The future of CEO Monwabisi Kalawe is uncertain. Minister Brown has endorsed the 2013 ‘Turnround Strategy’ but is frustrated with the lack of progress due to limited capital and board in-fighting.
Meanwhile the Board Chairwoman Dudu Myeni suspended CEO Monwabisi Kalawe and then refused to reinstate him as instructed by Public Enterprises Minister, Lynne Brown. The SAA Board and ‘the shareholder’ then appointed Nico Bezuidenhout as interim CEO. Brown subsequently agreed that ‘due process’ will be followed around Kalawe’s continued suspension. She also directed the airline to appoint turnaround specialists to return the company to profitability restating that Government has no money for bail-outs. Cost effective turnaround specialists with a robust proven track record are thin on the ground. In any case they are seldom a real substitute for a management up to its tasks.
To round it all off, Interim CEO Nico Bezuidenhout has presented a 90-day Recovery Plan focused on withdrawal from loss-making routes and re-negotiation of A340-600 leases. US$118m potential annual saving is mentioned. “It is a challenge”, he said. Do we hear a sigh?
Finally, the airline has 2 unused frequencies under the Nigeria Air Services Agreement and talks of using them to launch Abuja as a new destination.
Seychelles Airlines proposed, private, B767 carrier has withdrawn its AOC application pending legal clarification on its use of the word ‘Seychelles’.
TAAG (Angola) Government has signed a 10yr Management Concession Agreement for Emirates to run TAAG. Emirates will have 4 seats on the 9 man Board, including the CEO, but no equity holding. Hopefully the Emirates team will be given a free hand to redesign and run the airline.
3. WEST AFRICA
Air Côte d’Ivoire lifted ebola-related suspensions and re-started flights to Conakry, Freetown and Monrovia from 26th October. Meanwhile the carrier has received two new Q400s. It has options for 2 more.
CEO Rene Decurey has stated that “Airbus will renew and expand our fleet” starting in 2015 and building up to 10 aircraft by 2017
Air Taraba (Nigeria) has applied for an AOC . They are not alone. 16 other aspirant new carriers have also made applications.
Ceiba (Eq Guinea) has recovered its B777-200LR which was impounded at Madrid in a legal dispute between an unpaid UK road construction company and the Equatorial Guinea government.
Cronos Airlines (Eq Guinea) is awaiting the delivery of an E135. The company operates domestic services between Malabo and Bata and regionally to Cotonou, Douala and Port Harcourt.
Gambia Bird has indefinitely delayed the re-start of its Gatwick-Freetown route due to the ebola outbreak. Flights between Gatwick, Banjul and Dakar continue.
Niger Airlines (Niger) has received a wet-leased B737-200 from Iraq. It has also a wet-leased F50 from Palestine. The company operates between Niamey and Ouagadougou, Bamako and Dakar.
Senegal Airlines has taken delivery of a Q400 on a 12 month wet lease to add to its single leased CRJ100. The company also wet-leases a A330-200 short term for Hajj operations.
Starbow (Ghana) was temporarily grounded by the Ghana CAA following an HS146 emergency landing. The operating certificate of the remaining 2 HS146 was withdrawn pending airworthiness checks subsequently completed satisfactorily. Nevertheless these 3 aircraft have been put up for sale.
TACV (Cape Verde) has completed the sale and lease-back of two ATR72s. The Government aims to privatise it in 2015.
4. NORTH AFRICA
Air Algerie The Minister of Transport has announced route expansion plans to including Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Chad and Djibouti by 2017. 3 more A330-200s are now on order. The current fleet totals 44 including 6 A330-200s and 22 B737s, mainly -800s.
Afriqiyah/Libyan Airlines reports indicate that 13 of their 19 aircraft caught at Tripoli Airport during the July militia fighting will not fly again. That total includes the 3 Afriqiyah A330s. Two new Libyan Airlines A330s remain at Toulouse pending delivery. The Afriqiyah order for 2 new A330s is live. Tripoli terminal is all but destroyed and commercial flights have ceased.
Royal Air Maroc is to launch B787 services to Paris and New York in January/February 2015. 4 B787-8s on order and new routes to Nairobi and Dar es Salaam are being planned.
The airline intends to renew its fleet and expand from 47 to 105 aircraft by 2025. An A380 might replace the single B747. B737Max and A320neos are likely to vie for narrow-body orders with SSJ100 and Emb190s contesting the 100 seat orders. Initial RFPs are expected in 2015. For now the airline has taken delivery of the first of 4 leased EMB190s
Syphax (Tunisia) The current fleet, 2 A319s and a single A330, is to grow to 15 aircraft by 2018 including a second A330 in 2015 plus incremental A320s. New York services are planned for 2015 alongside the existing ones to Montreal .Abidjan, Libreville and Lagos head perceived West African opportunities.
5. NON-AFRICAN AIRLINES
Air France reinforced its almost unchallengeable superiority on the Paris-Abijan route by replacing B777s with A380 on three of its seven times weekly flights.
Alitalia is hinting at withdrawing its three weekly Lagos/Accra services in mid-2015.
Emirates. Over the next 10 yrs CEO Tim Clark says that the company plans to add 10 new African routes to its existing 22 and to increase frequencies.
Currently the airline is tussling with the South African Department of Transport over its new 4th daily Johannesburg flight. The Air Service Agreement allows for the addition but the Department has objected. In the meantime Dar es Salaam frequencies have increased from daily to 12 per week.
Hainan Airlines (China) is seeking to launch Nairobi services in 2015. Hainan is also a joint venture partner in Africa World Airlines of Ghana
Korean Air is suspending its Seoul-Nairobi services for six months from month suspension of from December 2014 to June 2015.
Qatar Airways launched its A320 Doha- Djibouti route on 27th Oct. Asmara is to follow.
TAP The Sierra Leone ebola outbreak has forced a delay to the launch of its thrice weekly flights to Guinea-Bissau.
Turkish Airlines has re-launched its route from Istanbul to Misrata, Libya but cancelled its November start to Luanda. Once again Angola’s extremely difficult and protectionist authorities have made life difficult. A further ten African destinations are however planned within the next year.
British Airways is reducing its daily 777 frequency between London and Nairobi to six a week. It is not clear whether this is a temporary measure in response to a perceived insecurity-driven downturn in the market or whether it is likely to be permanent. Kenya Airways’ response to the market conditions by downsizing from a B777-200 to a 787 looks the better strategic option. The business market in particular does not like blank days.
AFRAA says its Joint Fuel Buying Agreement has saved members US$3m over the past 3 years.
Ghana CAA is considering limiting aircraft age for its airlines following an emergency landing by a Starbow 25yr old HS146. Nigeria does this at 18 years.
Guinea Bissau’s government has announced its intention to create a new national carrier to resume and stabilize the route to Lisbon.
Kenya’s Mombasa Airport is to be upgraded with a new runway and terminal building. Unlike most current major Kenyan infrastructure projects this is to be done with 85% French funding and 15% World Bank. The financing have been signed. The very optimistic timescale for completion is given as 2 years.
Malawi Blantyre’s Chileka Airport terminal upgrade has ground to a halt awaiting Government payment for work so far completed. The major funding is Chinese major. The 2013 Presidential announcement of a new airport to be built slips to being an aspiration and certainly current traffic levels, and even those achieved before Lilongwe’s “new” airport opened in 1977 do not warrant it.
Malawi’s Govt has yet to find buyers for the ex-Air Malawi ATR42 and 737-300, both 23 yrs old. The newer 737-500 is also stored.
Nigeria will start privatization of federal airports “soon” says the DG, Bureau of Public Enterprises. The stated aim is to “boost efficiency”.
Uganda’s government has again mentioned re-launching failed Uganda Airlines. This one just bubbles and bubbles. Substantial government funding would be required and unless it were created lean and mean with a minimum level of staff and no wasted expenditure it is unlikely to be more successful than its predecessor.
Regarding traffic rights, the aeronautical authorities are looking to increase 5th freedom rights for a number of foreign carriers to replace the network of Air Uganda which ceased flying in June.
From the archives …… 50 years ago, on 18 December 1964, Ghana Airways took delivery of the first of an intended three improved Standard VC10s, the first overseas sales success for the type. With a flight crew of 4 including a navigator and flight engineer, initially one and for 22 months a second served the Accra-London route. This second , delivered in June 1965 was leased to MEA from April 1967 and, along with most of the airline’s fleet, was blown up at Beirut Airport by Israeli forces on 28th December 1968. The third was never delivered and instead diverted to British United Airways. Government-owned Ghana Airways was born out of West African Airways following independence, but rising debts and inefficiencies loomed large once the airline was infected by President Nkrumah’s grandiose and profligate plans pushed it beyond its original appropriate and manageable fleet of 2 long haul Bristol Britannias backed by 2 Viscounts plus DC3s and Herons on domestic and regional services. 8 turboprop Il-18s acquired at Government behest from new friend Russia had little to do other than fly a low demand route to Moscow whose main purpose was to rotate the aircraft through there for maintainance. The company never shook off the resultant accumulated debt. The last straw was when the unwise 2004 operation of an AOC-expired DC10 into the USA resulted in a ban from US airspace and the loss of a block of almost guaranteed revenue. There was no way back. The airline was liquidated in June 2005.
30 November 2014