Monday, 23 June 2014

Africa,-Up pop the Regulators.

There must have been something in the African water these last few weeks. From Uganda to Namibia there has been a rash of capricious interventions by regulators and ministers, so often a toxic mix anywhere. The predictable results have included turmoil and long faces for operators and passengers alike.

Last week, Cornwell Muleya, CEO of Air Uganda was suddenly advised that the airline's AOC had been revoked by the Uganda CAA. Operations ceased immediately. The trigger seems to have been a standard ICAO audit highlighting, as they always do, various deficiencies in the regulator's safety oversight. Although this is more about the regulator than the airline ,the company is now having to submit an application for its AOC to be reinstated.

A similar thing happened in the Democratic Republic of Congo three weeks ago. An ICAO audit highlighted deficiencies in local navaids. The knee jerk response to this not unprecedented state of affairs was to declare them all unserviceable. This instantly converted domestic operations to VFR only although dispensations were granted to enable international links to continue from Kinshasa and Lubumbashi. Karongo, part owned by Brussels Airlines, instantly stopped flying. This in a country with no real road or rail alternatives. Do we need to describe the results?

Down in Namibia, Air Namibia's routine application to renew its AOC was rejected and the company's MD suspended. Politics is at play here but the airline now faced grounding when its AOC expired and has no MD to sort it all out. Disruption and discomfort loomed. Fortunately the country's civil aviation authority has now cleared it to continue flying.

Meanwhile Kenyan officialdom has also drunk the water. Despite the country saying it is trying to diversify its inbound markets to reduce its over dependence on Europe and an announcement last week urging more Nigerians to visit the country, the shutters have come down on the South Africans. From here on they are hit with a US$70 visa fee, even for transits,  along with something that must surely come from a 1952 manual,- the need for a return ticket and a letter of invitation to visit. Not only that but in a new 2014 twist applicants must also visit Pretoria for "biometrics". Who from outside the immediate area is going to do that? In what sort of world do these regulators live? South African tour operators are up in arms and Kenya Airways and the tourism industry pay the price of over zealous jobsworths.
As if to add another block of concrete to the feet of Kenya Airways in particular, there is now VAT on airline tickets sold in Kenya as well as on aircraft and spares purchases. Aviation and tourism are essential to the economy.They have been thriving in Kenya and since privatisation the "national" airline has been one of the continent's big success stories. Maybe that in itself has made it vulnerable. Some people just can't stand success if it makes others look good.

The consistent theme seems to be one of not just firing odd shots into one's own feet but machine gunning them just to make sure. Mind you, the UK with its official reluctance or hesitation to build new runways, railway lines as well as to build or even maintain roads despite its exorbitant taxes on vehicles, fuel and air travel  hardly sets anybody a good example.

-John Williams-

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

African Roundup:    April – May 2014

 Later this year sees the arrival of the first of Air Maroc’s four B787-8s, highlighting the transformation of the airline over the past few years.  Significantly The new aircraft will make  possible the re-launch the Casablanca-Dubai route as the carrier increasingly focuses on connecting traffic. Historically it has seen itself as a Casablanca based point to point carrier catering primarily for European holiday-makers. Then came the 2006 signing of an open-skies agreement with the EU which swept away its bedrock revenue by providing an open door to European LCCs. The newly unleashed severe competition undermined RAM’s existing business and profits. In response the carrier has upgraded the fleet, pruned unprofitable routes and cut headcount by nearly half.  3 years of profitable operations have been its reward.

The signing of a codeshare agreement between Kenya Airways and South African LCC, Comair’s Kulula brand, highlights the continuing evolution of traditional LCC business models. Originally formed as ‘stand-alone’ businesses their target was the non-flying mass market.  For many, volumes grew quickly. This attracted even lower cost and lower fare new entrants to the markets. As a result individual carriers’ growth rates faltered. The Johannesburg-Durban-Cape Town triangle became a notable dogfight where anyone who could lay their hands on well written down classic 737 felt they should have a go.  With the recent launch of Kenya Airways own LCC, Jambo Jet, Kulula now has access to growth potential between a variety of South African and Kenyan points. FastJet has signed a similar agreement with ProFlight in Zambia again bringing together LCC and ‘traditional’ business models.

In a loose union of Davids and Goliaths, ProFlight has also been innovative in signing interline agreements with Emirates and Kenya Airways. In the ongoing and long standing absence of a major Zambian carrier, helped by Zambia continuing to be on the EU ‘blacklist’ – ProFlight is well positioned to provide domestic feed into international carriers serving Lusaka and Livingstone. Of these, Emirates (daily) and KLM(thrice weekly) are the only big long haul players.  BA abandoned its sixty plus year presence in Zambia last year when its London-Lusaka services were withdrawn as part of its scramble out of Africa. The higher capital cost of new B 787s which are replacing B767s one for one could have been part of the mathematics.

As we have recorded and watched with fascination, foreign owned FastJet arrived in Africa in 2012 with expectations of absorbing and converting existing Fly540 operations in Kenya, Ghana and Angola into a pan-African FastJet low cost/low fare brand. So far it hasn’t quite worked out like that and it’s not easy to see quite where the airline is heading as a cohesive whole. In fact so far it isn’t one.  The eventual (expensive) agreement with Fly540’s majority shareholder appeared to result in FastJet having operating and financial control but the two brands remain discrete.  The loss-making propensities of Fly540 have now resulted in FastJet suspending some of those operations and two ATR42s are therefore for sale.  A yet to be defined ‘restructuring’ has been talked about. FastJet’s CEO has announced a US$500mn revenue target for 2018 to be delivered by a 24 aircraft fleet from new bases in Kenya, Zambia and South Africa. There is no mention of profitability targets or when cumulative profits might exceed the capital, leasing and operating costs already spent in paying for Fly 540 and all the flying the airline does before reaching break even. It could be quite a while.

Ethiopian Airlines is taking the battle for supremacy between east Africa’s two rival hubs right to Kenya Airways’ front door. It has announced a doubling of B737-800 frequencies between Addis Ababa and Nairobi to 4 per day.  Kenya Airways operates a mish mash of just 8 per week at varying times of the day.   Ethiopian clearly senses an opportunity to fish in the Nairobi pond and intend to give no quarter in the overall battle.  Both carriers have aggressive expansion plans underway and both vie strenuously for East African ‘hub supremacy’. Currently Ethiopian appears to be winning and its fleet expansion programme is the more aggressive .Both have airport capacity and facilities problems at their home bases and urgently need a lot of building work to produce 21st century passenger-friendly airport terminals. Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International, while improving and growing in a haphazard sort of way is Kenya Airways’ biggest disadvantage.  Its aged 1960s ferro concrete based design frustrates travellers and makes separation of inbound and outbound passengers impossible. This amongst other things holds back the launch of direct US operations by Kenya Airways. (The FAA will not grant the essential Cat1 grading).  Perhaps Ethiopian senses a Kenya Airways vulnerability as CEO Titus Naikuni’s retirement nears and the JKIA terminal saga rumbles on. Finding a replacement for Naikuni is also proving difficult. The airline is not expatriate friendly,-in the past one was even terminated before he began thanks to hostility from encumbents,- so it was never going to be easy. Other internal tensions also complicate life at Embakasi.

Business challenges come in all shapes and sizes.  In the same week that Emirates was accepting its 50th A380, PrecisionAir of Tanzania was withdrawing its ATR42s to Mbeya , the country’s largest town close to the Malawi/Zambia border in isolated south west Tanzania. The need to carry round-trip fuel from Dar es Salaam restricted passenger uplift to below an economic level.  But in Africa there are always predators. FastJet has swooped in with increased frequency, its A319 being untroubled by the extra fuel load.

Of great interest to African, Turkish and other airlines will be the reported debate within Boeing about how best cater for the 190/210 seat aircraft market . The question is whether to go for a further stretched narrow body 737 or a further cut back widebody 787. This a slot which which concerns Kenya Airways, Ethiopian and SAA in particular as they expand their intra-Africa and medium haul regionals with conflicting interests of low seat mile costs, more freight capacity and the need for frequency rather than sheer capacity. It will also be watched closely by smaller carriers as it could provide them with a viable widebody to keep them competitive with their bigger rivals and enable them to make money on less dense routes from their home bases.  Just how far can the 787 be shrunk until its economics come off worse than a narrow body? This is a rerun of the 757 v A310/300 debate of the 1970s and none the less compelling for that. At that time the 757 was the hands down winner economically if not for passenger appeal and over time it seriously clipped the wings of the short haul widebodies on sectors of up to around 4 hours and later pushed narrowbodies back even into the lower density shorter long hauls, notably on the North Atlantic. This was despite shrieks from marketing departments that narrow bodies would be dead and buried and unacceptable to the market at the end of the 707/DC8/VC10 era. If a shortened 787 can shed enough basic weight to better the economics of a lengthened 737 it could be a serious winner,- and set Airbus a new problem as it is having problems selling the wider A350s below the -900 size and it’s doubtful if they could shrink it further without an expensive new and lighter wing. The narrower body of the 787 makes an economic shrink much easier.


Air Tanzania, desperate to achieve some sort of viability and rebuild a credible network hopes to resume Dar-es-Salaam – Lubumbashi – Kinshasa flights. It is also restoring Zanzibar and adding Arusha to the network with a daily Dash 8-300. The airline’s only other aircraft is a CRJ200.

 The airline’s ongoing financial problems however remain. A parliamentary debate called for Government to take on and remove from the airline’s books US$80mn of accumulated debt as well as paying for the purchase of two additional aircraft in 2014-15. Wiping the slate clean is  the only way to ever make the airline viable. While the debt remains on its books the interest payments cripple it before it even starts its engines. There is no way that any potential investor would take on responsibility for the $ 80 million. It would take decades to pay off even after it first broke even. (May 2014)

Air Uganda has joined IATA and AFRAA. CEO Cornwell Muleya is enthusiastic about the cost benefits of the AFRAA joint fuel-purchase scheme and the joint ground handling project. (May 2014)

Astral Aviation (Kenya) Cargo carrier has signed an MOU with Hainan Airlines which anticipates US$50m of Chinese investment.  No details have been made public.  (May 2014)

Ethiopian Airlines continues to add interesting spokes to its network. On 24th May it launched 4 x weekly B737-800 Addis – Kano – Enugu flights, offering passengers from these two Nigerian cities the opportunity to travel abroad without going through the much disliked Lagos airport with its notoriety for hassle in assorted forms.

In common with many African governments and businesses , Ethiopian is looking to China for finance. It has signed an MoU for ‘financial support’ for fleet expansion, including commercial loans, finance leases and sale/leaseback with ICBC (China)

787-8 deliveries continue apace. Number 7 has now arrived and the remaining three follow before the end of the year. Almost inevitably they will want and need more,- and soon as the existing fleet prove that they can fill the 40 or so seat difference between 787-8 and 737-800 passenger capacity and really exploit  the widebody’s much greater freight volume as an additional bonus.

In a move to boost its USA business, the airline has signed a codeshare deal with United Airlines for flights between and beyond Ethiopia and its US gateways. (May 2014)

Fastjet is currently targeting a fleet of 24 A319s and US$ 500 million a year revenue by 2018. Meanwhile it has confirmed it is in talks with easyGroup (UK) over long term financing including conversion of easyGroup’s annual UKL500k management fee to equity.

 CEO Ed Winter anticipates US$47m operating loss for 2013 including Fly540 operations.

 In April the airline suspended loss-making Fly540 Angola operations and the 2 ATR42s are for sale. Fly540 Ghana ops now also suspended. ‘Restructuring’ of both carriers is the aim but there is a lack of clarity about future visions for them. There seems to be a lot of fog about here. (May 2014)

Kenya Airways. With the arrival of the first of its nine 787-8s the Kenyan carrier can now start looking forward again. With only 6 on order it may find that it has to retain at least its original three 767-300s both for route and capacity expansion and to alleviate some of its Embraer-induced shortage of cargo capacity.
The airline’s choice of internal colour scheme and new business class seats for the 787s is conservative and lacks a “wow” factor , particularly in comparaison to the Gulf carriers or London route competitor BA’s offerings. It is perhaps closer to shareholder KLM’s latest product. Verdict: A missed opportunity.
Commercially a new codeshare deal with Comair’s LCC Kalula, S Africa breaks fresh ground. The airline’s Johannesburg-Nairobi flights are its core, with Kulula feeding it from South African domestic points. Amongst other things this means Kulula now entering the distinctly non low cost business of getting involved in transfer baggage, interline ticketing etc.
Unsurprisingly in view of the large Muslim population on the Kenya coast, Mombasa is being inserted in the Nairobi-Jeddah E190 operated route from June. (Apr2014)
Rwandair launched 5 weekly CRJ900 flights between Kigali and Douala on 31st March. Next will be Abidjan. Mumbai is also being mentioned as a possible addition or extension to the Dubai route.   (Apr 2014)
SkyAero (Kenya) launched Low Cost services between Nairobi and Kisumu and Mombasa at a one way selling price of $64 during the last week of May. The fleet of one or two DC-9s and a single B737-300 appears to belong to Pan African Airways with whom its website says it is associated.( May 2014)
Sudan Airways has leased 2 A320s for regional operations. Its fleet currently comprises 3 F50s and a single leased B737-300 and B737-500.  US trade sanctions impact on fleet flexibility. Once a player in the UK/Europe/East Africa market from the late 1950s Viscount era onwards  this airline is a shadow of some of its former selves.  (May 2014)


Air Botswana. Having been without a substantive General Manager for more than 6 months, the company has appointed Ben Dhawa, a former Air Namibia Director of Operations. We wish him well. (May 2014)

Air Madagascar is wet leasing a euro-Atlantic B767-300ER from June to September to operate Anatananrivo – Moroni – Marseilles. The country is on the EU black list (Apr 2014)

Air Namibia is dropping its daily direct Windhoek-Accra A319 from June due to unsatisfactory loads. (Apr 2014)
Air Seychelles will again serve Paris CDG twice weekly via shareholder Etihad’s hub, Abu Dhabi, from 2nd July (May 2014)
Air Zimbabwe has achieved IOSA re-certification for the 4th successive year (May 2014)
Fly Blue Crane (S Africa) is a proposed start-up headed by ex-SAA CEO Siza Mzimela. Funding would be 80 % local. It would have a have regional rather than domestic focus. It has filed for an Air Service Licence. (May 2014)
flyCAA (DRC) is wet-leasing a South African registered A320 to operate its sole international route, Lubumbashi-Johannesburg.  The DRC RVA (DGCA) has banned the use of locally registered aircraft on international routes (Apr 2014)

Congo Airways (DRC) . The Government has announced the creation of a new national carrier to replace insolvent LAC Lignes Aeriennes Congolaises which is due for liquidation. An unspecified ‘technical partner’ is to be a shareholder alongside Government and local citizens.  (Apr14)

ECAir (Congo Brazzaville). Everyone wants to go to Dubai. EC Air launched a thrice weekly Brazzaville-Dubai route on 31st March. This carrier is 100% government and was launched in 2011.  The fleet comprises 2 B737-300s, 2 737-700s, 2x B757-200s, all PrivatAir (Switzerland) wet-leases under Lufthansa Technik care. There are plans for an additional 2 aircraft during 2014.  The company serves Paris and regional African points.  (Apr 2014) (Zimbabwe) is another start-up and has gained its gains AOC. It aims for a June launch and to progressively build up a fleet of 5 B737-500s linking Harare, Victoria Falls , Bulawayo and Johannesburg  (May 2014)

FlySafair (S Africa) has received a Domestic Air Service Licence but its operational start-up date has yet to be announced. (Apr 2014)
Mjair Airlines (Zimbabwe) has applied for an Air Service Permit to launch domestic, regional and international scheduled passenger services (May 2014)
SkyWise (S Africa). This company’s Air Service Licence has been revoked due it not starting up within 12 months of granting. It is/was planned to be a new LCC to be born out of the liquidated 1Time. (Apr 2014)

Trans African Airways (S Africa) is a start-up planning to fly with 2 A320s ‘in cooperation with CAA’, Compagnie Africaine Aviation, of DRC (May 2014)


Afrinat International Airlines (Gambia) plans to launch B747 operations on 26 June. These are to include thrice weekly to Accra and Harare 3pw and for times weekly to New York 4pw. This sounds ambitious.(May 2014)

Air Ghana. This is a new cargo carrier which on 1st May started flying for DHL with the first of 5 737-400 freighters. The aircraft are in DHL colours.A Ghana AOC has been obtained and a regional network is envisaged. (May 2014)
Arik Air achieved FAA ETOPS clearance for its leased A330-200, so in March operated the first ever USA service with a Nigerian registered aircraft. (Apr 2014)
ASKY CEO Yissehak Tewolde says break-even was achieved ‘last year’ after launch in Jan 2010. Network expansion continues initially by ‘tagging’ new points onto existing routes.  West/Central African feed at Lome into/from Ethiopian’s Accra – Lome – Rio/Sao Paulo flights averages 40 per flight and is growing. Togolese technicians are under training in Addis.  The 5 year vision is ‘a successful international airline with solid market coverage’ dominated by on-line sales.
South African Airways has said it wants to discuss cooperation in the airline with Ethiopian but it is difficult to see why Ethiopian should have any interest in such an arrangement. (Apr 2014)

Azman Air (Nigeria). The Kano based carrier started domestic ops on the Lagos-Abuja-Kano triangle on 15th May using 2 ex-BMi B737-300s. (May2014)

Ceiba (Eq Guinea) has wet-leased a B737-800. Its current fleet stands at 4 ATR42/72, one B767-300ER and one B777-200LR. It operates a West African regional network and long haul to Madrid and Sao Paulo (May 2014)

Colombe Airlines (Burkino Faso) has added a ATR72-200 to its ATR42-300. Both are wet-leased. (Apr 2014)

Cronos Airlines (Eq Guinea) has an additional B737-400 in the fleet which flies domestically between Malabo and Bata and regionally to Cotonou and Douala. Port Harcourt and Abuja are planned additions (Apr2014)

Discovery Air (Nigeria)a Lagos-based start-up has accepted a second B737-300. Its planned June 2014 schedules are on the Lagos – Abuja – Port Harcourt triangle. It has though yet to obtain an AOC. (May 2014)
Goldstar Airlines (Ghana) This very ambitious and optimisticstart-up (they are everywhere, is the money though?) aims to operate Accra to Baltimore, Gatwick, Guangzhou and Natal (Brazil) with a B747-200. Aircraft of that age historically have demanded substantial engineering and spares resources. They may be (very) cheap to buy but they are expensive to operate.  (May 2014)

Mauritania Airlines International will receive an ERJ145 in June followed by a
B737-800.  The current fleet 2 B737-500s serves West African regional points and, twice a week, the almost inevitable Paris where it is up against a four times weekly Air France A330-200. Mauritania’s EU blacklisting was lifted in Dec 2012 (May 2014)

Niger Airlines (Niger) is talking of start-up this year focusing on West African regional routes with a wet-leased B737-200 and a Fokker50 (May 2014)

Sahel Airlines is another proposed new carrier to be jointly owned by Mauritania, Mali and Chad.  The latter two do not have operational national airlines. (Apr 2014)

Senegal Airlines with USD17.5m of debt is seeking a ‘strategic partner’ to ensure survival. SAA, Air France and Ethiopian are front runners. A decision is said to be likely ‘very soon’ . Is this the same SAA which is short of money at home?(May 2014)

Slok Air (Nigeria) is seeking Emirates partnership to relaunch operations. This may be a little optimistic as its AOC was revoked in 2004 and liquidation followed. It’s not an obvious unmissable opportunity for the very hard headed gentlemen of Dubai. (Apr 2014)


Afriqiyah is discussing with Boeing a possible late 2014 order for 10 B737MAX to replace aging A320s  (May 2014)
Egyptair. The collapse of incoming tourism is behind talk of a US$1.4bn 2014 loss (May 2014)

Libyan Airlines is negotiating with Bombardier for 10 C-Series to replace CRJ900s. A decision targeted for late-2014. (May 2014)
Libyan Airlines / Afriqiyah the long anticipated merging of the two carriers has been deferred in the light of the nation’s effective civil war  (May 2014)
Libyan Wings is leasing 2x A319s to facilitate a start to operation in Q3 this year. Longer term it plans to have 3 A350-900s and 4 A320neo. (May 2014)
Nawras Air (Libya) is a Tripoli based start-up planning to launch with A320s. Details are lacking. (May 2014)
Royal Air Maroc is preparing for the arrival of the first of 4 B787-8s and the re-launch of its Dubai route to expand its Casablanca hub. The recent shedding of unprofitable routes and fleet rationalisation plus a 50% reduction in staff have led to 3years of profitable operations. (May 2014)

Tunisair launched twice weekly Tunis – Erbil A320 services on 29th May. (Apr 2014)


Air France. As forecast the big one is coming to north of the Limpopo. The company intends to introduce the A380 on three of its currently nine weekly Paris – Abidjan services from October. (Apr 2014)

Emirates is giving its competitors a bit of a breather for 90 days starting 1st May by reducing frequencies to 6 African points during the 80 days of runway re-surfacing at Dubai. This has meant the temporary shedding of 25% of its total movements at Dubai and will result in a network lost revenue cost estimated at US$272m. As previously reported in Airnthere, Dubai airport perceived punctuality with 75% of the normal operation flying from 50% of the normal runways is better than it has been with a 100% operation from 100% of runways.   (Apr 2014)
Royal Jordanian dropped Accra from the Amman-Lagos-Accra-route from April. (Apr 2014)
Turkish Airlines in June, continues the relentless expansion of its African network by adding B 737-800 services to Cotonou, Bamako and Conakry to their African network in June.  (Apr 2014)

DRC Govt has apparently revoked all local carriers’ international traffic rights, including Korongo and flyCAA, but the situation is unclear. ( note Korongo’s twice weekly Lubumbashi-Johannesburg flights returned to on-line display in May). Some AOCs have also been suspended due to slow progress towards IOSA certification. Okapi and Congo Express, both stopped operating in 2012 (Apr 2014)

DRC under ICAO pressure the RVA (Board of Air Transport) declared what everybody already knew to be the case,-ie all navaids (VOR/ILS) within the DRC are unserviceable. This limited domestic flights to VFR only. Mysteriously ILS availability continues for inbound cross-border ones. Unsurprisingly in the face of the rainy season, Korongo immediately cancelled all domestic schedules.  (May 2014)

Swaziland has been removed from the EU blacklist.  Mozambique and Zambia are commended for ‘making progress’ but, as yet, remain on it.  (Apr 2014)

Tanzania. Construction has started on the new Terminal 3 at Dar es Salaam airport and work on the new terminal at Kilimanjaro continues. Unusually on a continent where most current infrastructure is Chinese the Dutch are funding and arranging the construction contracts at both. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, KLM, with its daily A330-300 on a triangular routing is the main European long haul operator to both airports.  (Apr 2014)

John Williams
31 May 2014

Monday, 9 June 2014

Karachi: Food for thought about the unthinkable reality.

The attack on Karachi airport last night will have sent a shudder down the spine of national and aviation security people everywhere. It was the sort of attack that was pretty much inevitable sooner or later. It is almost something people haven't dared to think about. Many heads remain deeply buried in the sand because the solution is so difficult.

Fortunately, though not for those who died or were seriously injured there, Karachi was a relatively limited action. There is no guarantee that any similar events will be. They were also fortunate in that there is an armed and capable military presence on the airport.

How many airports worldwide can honestly say that that if a lorry load of terrorists were to suddenly run into a terminal and another break through the gates onto the ramp they have 24/7 SAS type teams on hand to immediately counter and contain the attack?  If they can't, then within minutes hundreds or thousands could be dead in the terminals and every aircraft on the ramp on fire. It doesn't bear thinking about,- and yet it must be. Not only the security forces but every airport, manager, dispatcher and aircraft Captain must have a picture of what they would do in this situation.

Airlines operate through a good number of airports on the basis that the perimeter security is good enough to stop any such attack before it reaches anywhere it can do harm. In too many cases this is a fiction. The problem is that everybody knows that  if a tougher view were taken a good number of major, never mind minor, cities would immediately lose their air services. Indeed many global networks would collapse and international travel would be in an impossible state.

Whether one likes it or not, the minimum requirement for any international airport should be the presence 24/7/365 of a highly trained and appropriately armed rapid response unit ready for instant response when the "Go" button is pressed. Every minute counts. No time for struggling into kit and picking up equipment. The same goes for some tourist resort areas in higher risk parts of the world and no amount of complaining about the perceived unfairness of adverse foreign government travel advisories can disguise the fact. If one thinks about a middle of the night event and the likely speed of response in some parts of the world, it quickly becomes frightening and then terrifying. Worst of all, it's real.

The unthinkable must get further thought , followed by real action- and quickly.