Sometimes you just get feelings about things. Two recent examples spring to mind.
The first came from a few hours at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo airport and the second from Fastjet’s announcement that it has successfully raised $50 million of additional capital to fund network and fleet expansion.
Let’s take Johannesburg Airport first. The visit to it included arriving on a domestic flight and departing on a long haul international one. It was during the late afternoon and evening peak and usually busy. The total building taking in bits of old and new is long, and in places massive. The finish and furnishings are high quality and bright. Waders are not required in the toilets.Its airside shops feature many top of range brands. Its cafes are busy. It’s like a big terminal anywhere,a true major international airport which just happens to be in Africa. Despite its location just 2 hrs flying from the southern tip of the continent, it offers nonstop flights to more major cities in a wider spread of continents and countries than any other airport in Africa. Apart from home based SAA ,tails of the world come and go, Singapore, Cathay Pacific, Delta, Qantas, Qatar, Turkish, A380s from BA, Lufthansa, Air France, domestic flights by the national carrier plus Comair (BA franchise), Kulula (SAA’s low cost airline) and flySafair, the latest to try its hand in the game.
It is way ahead of its African rivals Nairobi and Addis Ababa, where the national carriers totally dominate, legacy foreign tails are a rare and only the new Gulf and Turkish carriers make a substantial long haul showing. All this may change with an entirely new terminal at Nairobi and a new airport at Addis Ababa but for now these competitors should be examining closely what it is that Johannesburg does and how it does it.
Then there is Fastjet. We still find it very hard to analyse this one. It took to the air in 2012 aiming to be multi based low cost airline operating around and across the continent. It is refreshingly different, foreign owned and managed and with great new ideas. It has just raised £50 million additional share capital to be deployed in “two key areas, expansion working capital and the acquisition of aircraft”. It is looking to expand operations in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and South Africa. The working capital for that will be the priority for the new money. “An acquisition programme for used Airbus A319 aircraft “will use what’s left over from these working capital needs. So far so good but whatever its intentions the airline has still only got three aircraft and is not yet darkening the skies or ramps of Africa. It’s true, there are signs of hope, especially in Zambia and some useful 5th freedoms are coming into the picture. Breakthroughs always seem to be imminent .They really need to happen before more working capital becomes spent capital.
Away from the feelings and back in the more tangible world ,Tanzania/Kenya regional harmony was again briefly interrupted in a(nother) cross border spat. In the 3rd week of March the Tanzanian civil aviation authorities, irritated by Kenya’s footdragging in accepting Tanzania’s designation Fastjet Tanzania on the Dar es Salaam-Nairobi route, cut Kenya Airways daily flights from 6 to 2 with the 737-800 the largest aircraft which could be deployed. (In the past 767s have been used on an ad hoc basis). There was no prior notice. There were similar shot-in-own foot restrictions on Zanzibar-Nairobi where Kenya Airways carry much of the islands’ tourist traffic. Services from Mwanza on the shore of Lake Victoria were axed altogether. Fortunately after two days the two countries’ Presidents stepped smartly in, clipped a few ears and normal services were quickly reinstated. Other local business and tourism interests had clearly intervened.
Recently the South African regulator responded similarly to Botswana taking its time in approving BASA-entitled access to Maun. Common sense took a bit longer to prevail but a South African carrier duly appeared on the Maun ramp. Just weeks ago, in January, the AU was calling for the creation of an Africa-wide aviation single market by 2017 (see more below). That’s only two years away and yet we still see these kinds of problems.
Next year comes the opening of the South Atlantic island of St Helena’s first ever airport. The island’s population is about 3,800, down from the 2008 census of 4,255. That’s just 1,000 more than on board Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth when it circles (but does not call) during January 2016.
When Seychelles opened Mahe airport in 1973 the 115 islands had a population of 55,000. A hotel building and tourism boom followed. BA had to kick it off quickly with the Coral Strand Hotel just so that there was somewhere for its passengers to go. The warm seas and unspoiled palm fringed beaches straight out of anyone’s dreams of a tropical island were a huge attraction. It is unlikely that St Helena will follow the same path although it will see special interest individuals and groups.
St Helena’s government has selected Comair, who operate both as a BA franchise and as low cost carrier Kulula, to provide the link to continental Africa with a B737-800 to/from Johannesburg though it’s not clear whether under which brand. It is intended that RMS St Helena whose operating costs triggered the building of the airport will be phased out though there will still need to be some use of ships to import bulkier items, building materials etc. Flight planning to the very isolated island will require an island holding reserve or fuel or continue Ascension Island, 800 miles away. On mainland Africa Johannesburg is 2,300 miles, Luanda 1370 miles and Windhoek 1,500 miles distant.
Two ends of an African spectrum…FlyDubai has added Hargeisa as its 16th African destination, Hargeisa . Since June 2009 this airline has grown to a fleet of 45 B737-800s and has another 50 on order. It opened a new destination every 16 days in 2014 and more than 10million passengers have now been carried. At the other end is Malawian Airlines which started service in January 2014 with a single Q400 operating to Tete, Nampula and Beira in Mozambique. It is now searching for a smaller aircraft more suited to very low levels of demand and there is no sign yet of a burst of growth being instigated by its owner Ethiopian. This will be frustrating to those who expected something more that the reappearance of an Air Malawi lookalike. Malawi and Mozambique, although neighbours along a lengthy border have historically divided by language. Mozambique was a Portuguese colony and Nyasaland a British protectorate and they have had little to do with each other. As result there are few natural travel flows between them.
For the past 10 years Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways have been building up frequencies to China. The number of Chinese visitors to the continent ranging from labourers to early tourists and business people, continues to grow rapidly but until now there has been no reciprocal Chinese carrier operating to Africa, possibly deliberately to allow the African carriers some breathing space in which to grow and earn Chinese currency to help balance the overall flow of trade which is heavily in China’s favour. This will change in June and Air China will operate thrice weekly between Beijing and Johannesburg. This will be worth a few percentage points of revenue to SAA via a codeshare but not do a lot for African airlines.
From the archives …… 70 years ago, as the end of WW2 approached, BOAC flying boats were operating to West Africa. Three ,nominally 74 passenger, Boeing 314s routed from Foynes, Eire, via Lisbon to Bathurst, Freetown and Lagos switching back on a circuitous trans-Atlantic route to Baltimore, their engineering base. These aircraft provided welcome extra range above the 500nm of the pre-war British C Class flying boats but despite some unrealistic British optimism the writing was on the wall for even the medium term future of flying boats after the war. While Britain had concentrated on mass production of military aircraft the US had been able to progress the tricycle undercarriage DC4 and Constellation free from the vagueries of depending on suitable expanses of smooth water being close to desired destinations. To most people the contest was over before it began .The future belonged to land-based aircraft. Tail draggers were out too. They just didn’t look right and climbing a pair of slightly heightened kitchen steps to board didn’t compete for glamour against standing and waving to the world at the top of full height stairway on boarding a sleek new truly modern airliner. The 40-seat Lockheed Constellation was already flying the Atlantic and by 1946 it was planned that Heathrow should have no less than 9 runways. Undaunted but against the grain and in a truly British heroic doomed rearguard action Short’s continued with flying boat development at Rochester. In May 1948 their last fling began with the new unpressurised 34-seat Short Solent entering service on the 4-day Southampton-Johannesburg route. For a brief period Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi was included on the route but its location at the end of 100 miles of earth road from the capital Zomba should have been another indication of the future of the “can’t go everywhere” flying boats. So was Lake Naivasha in Kenya, a similar distance from Nairobi. The axe fell on this piece of aviation nostalgia in 1949/50 when first the Yorks and then unsung and often dismissed first modern British pressurized airliner, the Hermes, took over BOAC’s African routes in 1950.
1950-1960 were the years the most dramatic change in civil aviation anywhere and Africa was no exception. Airliners had a very short front line service life. The DC series quickly moved on from the DC4 to the DC 6 and ultimately the DC 7 series. The 1948 Constellation was outdated by the Super Constellation and ultimately the very short lived Starliner. The Comet 1 came and went in just 2 years in the false dawn of jet airliners. The turboprop Britannias arrived in 1957 but were gone by the mid early sixties. Who in Nairobi ,-or anywhere,- could have dreamed when stepping off an unpressurised non soundproofed box body Avro York in 1950 that just over ten years later in autumn 1960 they would be stepping on to a sleek Comet 4 or an unimaginably huge Boeing 707?
1. EAST AFRICA
African Airline Alliance (Somalia) is new company formed by the merger of Daallo Airlines (Somalia with Dubai Head Office) and Jubba Airways (Somalia with Kenya Head Office and AOC). The fleet comprises 2 A321s, a 737-300, a HS146-200 with 2 ATRs to follow.
Air Tanzania has added a second leased CRJ100 to maintain capacity while the single Dash 8-300 is away for heavy maintenance
Meanwhile the government’s Public Affairs Committee is looking to create a new national airline, possibly a revamped Air Tanzania, to by-pass Nairobi for tourism arrivals. This a continuation of the decades old story of rivalry and hostility between Kenya and Tanzania. The Tanzanian perception is that given a free shot Kenya and Nairobi will always dominate the East African tourism business. Back in the 1960s tourists arrived in Kenya and were transported by Kenyan vehicles driven by Kenyan guides and all Tanzania got was discounted hotel rates for the few nights on each itinerary when customers crossed into the headline attraction, the Serenegeti and Ngorongoro. It didn’t take long for Tanzania to simply close the border to Kenya originating or destined tourist traffic. It is proposed that that Tanzania National Parks and Ngorongoro National Park would be be ‘strategic investors’. Whether or why they would really want to be or have the spare cash is unclear. A Feasibility Study is already under way.
Ethiopian Airlines is now pursuing the purchase of up to 8 additional B787-8s. That’s an increase to the possible 3 mentioned in January. The aircraft are unsold overweight early production models parked which have decorated Seattle for the last 5 years. Boeing have to be more than keen to get rid of them for almost whatever they can get above scrap value. If Ethiopian can pay around the price of a 737-800 it would be a smart way to get cheap passenger and cargo capacity. The latter would sell well particularly within Africa’s landlocked countries which often experience long backlogs of freight offering. It is unclear how many of these early aircraft, rejected by previously intended customers, are available. Air Austral of Reunion are also understood to be looking at possibly purchasing two.
A new thrice weekly southern Africa B737-800 three point route taking in Gaberone, Capetown and Johannesburg is planned for a 31 June start. No 5th freedom rights would be sought for points beyond Gaberone and the airline has increased its Addis-Mumbai B787 frequencies to double daily.
The thrice weekly Addis-Entebbe-Goma services planned to start on 10th February have been deferred.
Fastjet launched 4 weekly A319s between Mwanza and Kilimanjaro on 31st March. On the same date some Dar es Salaam-Entebbe services had Kilimanjaro added en route.
Jambojet (Kenya Airways LCC subsidiary) added a leased Q400 at the end of March to serve the coastal points Lamu, Malindi and Ukunda. This introduces a second type to a fleet now totaling 4, the other 3 being former Kenya Airways B737-300. Again we get back to the question, why, other than to erect a barricade against Fastjet Kenya, engage in this distraction when Kenya Airways itself is grappling with security and ebola related threats to its profitability.
Jambojet looks like an unnecessary distraction . Really shedding the costs of its parent while not undermining its revenue could a problem the “Group” could really do without.
Kenya Airways, responding to a downturn in some of its markets has backtracked on its recent expansion of capacity. According to local press reports all four B777-200ERs are to be disposed of, probably followed by the three 777-300ERs which always did look on the large side for a carrier whose hub development would hinge more on frequency and range of destinations rather than big chunks of capacity. If the intention is to move to a single 787 type fleet ,with its potential for growth by using -9s and -10s, that makes sense but they need to exercise the options on the 4 additional aircraft soon. Their big African rival Ethiopian shows no sign of breaking its stride but its circumstances are different. Ethiopian has long been primarily a network carrier relying much less than Kenya Airways on traffic to and from its home hub. Part of Kenya Airways’ recent weakness as a destination is foreigners’ fears about its internal security. These concerns have been growing for some years but the recent university massacre and the UK issuing an advisory against travel to most of the coastal area all the way from just south of Mombasa up to the Somali border has to be another blow to recovery.
Sudan Airways leased two ERJ135s from Kenya.
Rwandair marking its first venture into medium and long haul markets in Europe, Asia and the Middle East is to acquire 2 Trent powered A330s from Airbus. This is an interesting airline, quietly building a network business away from the hassles of the traditional busy East African Nairobi and Addis hubs . They have a useful useful home base just a little to their south and west which gives it a time and ease of use advantage on some potential connecting flows.
2. SOUTH / CENTRAL AFRICA
Air Madagascar is dropping plans to replace two 737-300s with two RJ85s and instead has ordered a pair of ATR72-600s. A B737-700 will also join the fleet mid-year.
Air Namibia is planning to launch a Windhoek-Nairobi service.
BlueSky Airlines (DRC) has taken delivery of the first of 4 MD83s. The actual start-up of a purely domestic network is due during the year.
Comair having been successful in the St Helena Government tender will operate Johannesburg to -St Helena with B737-800 once the new airport opens in 2016.
EC Air (Congo Brazzaville) launched new routes to Libreville via Pointe Noire on 9th March and thrice weekly Brazzaville-Bamako-Dakar on 22nd March.
flyafrica.com (South Africa) has indicated Mozambique, Malawi, and Gabon plus Benin and Chad as target bases in addition to the existing one in Zimbabwe. Approvals for services to Namibia and Zambia from Johannesburg remain pending.
Malawian Airlines plans a fleet increase with a leased 30 seat aircraft in June to expand domestic flights and reduce capacity on the thin Mozambique routes to Tete, Beira and Nampula where the current Q400 is proving too big. The cross border Malawi- Mozambique market was always going to be problematical. Colonial history put Malawi into the British English speaking group of countries and Mozambique, along with Angola, into the Portuguese sphere . Also Malawi’s first President, Dr H Kamuzu Banda, refused to support the Mozambique FRELIMO organisation in their long fight for independence. As result the countries have had remarkably little to do with each other despite the Mozambique road network providing a land link into Malawi from the ports of Beira and Nacala and from Malawi to Zimbabwe via Tete. Services from Lilongwe to Nairobi and to Victoria Falls are planned for June.
Proflight (Zambia) is to codeshare on three weekly Rwandair Lusaka-Johannesburg 5th freedom services from 28th May.
SAA continues to look a less than happy company while it grapples with a number of past legacies. One was the early disposal of the well amortised 747-400s, still going strong in the fleets of several of its big rivals, in favour of the Airbus A340-300 and 600 in particular. This has left it with the relatively young and expensive 340s instead of the cheap-to-own 747s at a time when it could be jumping a generation of long haul types. Juggling with fleets continues with the possibility that it may agree with Airbus to drop 10 A320s and instead lease 5 A330-300s.
The airline hints at dropping all ‘full-service’ domestic and local flights in favour of its LCC subsidiary, Mango, as an element of future fleet re-evaluation. This would risk though handing a large slice of its domestic business to Comair/BA.
On the cargo front the airline is seeking a regional cargo aircraft to replace today’s 4 B737-300F/400Fs.
A brighter spot was the resumption on 7th March of daily non-stop Johannesburg-New York A340-600services removing the Dakar technical stop. Thanks to the more favourable winds southbound flights were scheduled to be nonstop in any case. Daily Washington schedules via Dakar continue but a cheaper alternative to Dakar is being sought although it is difficult to see a lot of options.
SA Express has received a US$96mn Government guarantee – approximately half being existing guarantee renewal plus half as a ‘going concern guarantee’.
SkyWise (S Africa) LCC launched B737-300 Capetown- Johannesburg flights on 5th March.
Trans Air Congo (Congo Brazzaville) The Pointe Noire based carrier has had its AOC reinstated. The three venerable B737-200s and 2 B737-300s will shortly resume domestic and regional flying. The leased DC9 will be returned to South Africa. One or more A319s are anticipated later this year.
3. WEST AFRICA
Air Côte d’Ivoire intends to continue its network growth by launching a Abidjan-Brazzaville-Luanda route in November.
Arik Air launched a four times weekly Lagos-Cotonou-Abidjan CRJ900 service on 16thFebruary.The airline is also considering creating a 9 spoke regional hub in Cotonou
Camair-Co has taken of its second and third MA60. These were ordered in 2012. Until now European carriers have been hesitant to codeshare on services flown by this type and there is little reason to suppose that this will change.
Goldstar Airlines (Ghana) This start-up has leased an on the face of it unlikely lineup of a MD-11, a B747-300 and a B767-300 but is still waiting for its AOC to be granted.
Mauritania Airlines International withdrew operations to Paris on 22nd February. Its balance sheet should improve. Domestic and West African regional services by its single 737-500 and 737-700 continue.
Starbow (Ghana) has taken delivery of the first of two wet-leased Q400s for thin domestic routes to release the fleet of 3 HS146s to expand the regional network.
TACV (Cape Verde) will in June switch its twice weekly B757-200 Boston service to Providence (Rhode Island), the heart of the Cape Verdean diaspora. The airline’s fleet comprises 1 ATR42, 2 ATR72s, 1 B757-200 and a short term leased B737-800.
4. NORTH AFRICA
Afriqiyah has returned the 2 A320-200s to lessor Air Contractors, Dublin. The planned lease of 2 A320 from AeroVista, Dubai, has been cancelled before it started. AeroVista cites security problems in Libya. The lack of recognisable airports now that Tripoli has been “liberated”,- ie reduced to rubble,- could be a factor.
Libyan Airlines has European Commission approval to overfly EU airspace en-route to Istanbul.
Tunisair is planning twice weekly Tunis-Montreal flights presumably using 2 A330s on order.
5. NON-AFRICAN AIRLINES
Air China is to launch thrice weekly B 777-300 services between Beijing and Johannesburg on 18th June. SAA withdrew from the route on 28 March and will code share (ie get a small commission of maybe 5% on sales made under SA flight numbers).
Alitalia , another European airline on the retreat in Africa, withdrew its three weekly Lagos/Accra services at the end of March. These were its only African flights south of the Maghreb.
Condor has been operating a twice weekly B757-200 between Frankfurt and Windhoek since last November.
Emirates is reported to be planning to serve Lilongwe possibly as a variation of existing Harare/Lusaka triangle services. For Malawi’s connectivity to the world they can’t arrive soon enough. The country has long struggled to get good long haul air links and has relied largely on the 2 hour backhaul over Johannesburg or routeings via Nairobi or Addis. Neither of the two latter has the quality and ease of transfer of transfer facilities of Johannesburg or the Gulf airports. Johannesburg though is suffering from perceived increasing rates of transfer baggage loss and theft so a Gulf option will look very attractive for many itineraries.
Fly Dubai is to double frequency to Zanzibar from two to four per week in June. Zanzibar, despite some security problems of its own is being seen as a safer destination that much of the Kenya coast. Away from the holiday industry, Juba and Bujumbura are also to see increased capacity.
Qatar Airways is planning to increase its Johannesburg frequency to double daily in December, operating the second service on a triangular routeing via Durban. It will also launch a Doha-Kilimanjaro-Zanzibar service in June.
Turkish Airlines continued its advance in Africa by starting a five times weekly service to Abuja on 3rd March. Next up, starting in May, will be Istanbul-Ouagadougou-Bamako with a B737-900. Turkish's African destinations will then be up to 39.
African Union (AU) at the AU Summit Meeting in Addis Ababa, Jan 2015, 11 (out of 53) member nations (but including Kenya and South Africa) gave a “solemn commitment … to the implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision towards the establishment of a single African air transport market by 2017”. The AU Commission is charged to “facilitate the operationalization”. The process from here on was not defined. In the meantime, as described above, Kenya continues to do all it can to frustrate Fastjet’s appearance at its airports.
Nigeria. KPMG lists the nation-wide high-speed ‘Naija Rail’ plan amongst the world’s top 100 infrastructure projects. To be part-financed with a multi-billion dollar Chinese loan the 25year project will deliver a 3,200km network and 54 stations. Seeing will be believing. Six years ago we were at Pt Harcourt’s fine multi-tracked station which housed several trains which had not moved for maybe years. The arrival of the first train from the north,-or anywhere,- for a very long time was expected that day. The place was in a frenzy of anticipation but unfortunately we couldn’t wait long enough to see it actually appear. Given that backdrop the Chinese investors could face a bit of a challenge.
Nigeria Ethiopian, SAA and Lufthansa have been shortlisted by KPMG for consideration by the government as a partner for development of another new national carrier. Past portents do not point to an easy task. Many have been called but none has come away smiling.
Uganda Government has announced a US$365m 6-year plan to upgrade Entebbe airport.
World Health Organisation has removed the need for Yellow Fever Certificates for travel between Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Zambia and Zimbabwe are also trialling a joint visa.
John Williams and Peter Woodrow.