Gulf airlines expanding across African continent
Gulf carriers biggest threat to African aviation
Two East African aviation sources have of late once again expressed their concern, that the onslaught of Gulf-based airlines will eat into their traffic shares and reduce and dampen growth prospects for the future.
Kenya Airways (KQ) and Ethiopian Airlines, the latter the erstwhile Pan African airline copied successfully by rival KQ, are rapidly expanding their network across the African continent, intent to connect every commercial and political capital with their hubs in Nairobi and Addis Ababa, respectively. Going by figures available from Kenya Airways, Ethiopian in this regard is rather too quiet in getting corporate information into the public domain. About 50 percent of all revenue is coming from African traffic, and expanding the network by the end of 2013 to all capitals, will only strengthen this trend.
Yet, Gulf giant, Emirates, is already flying to 22 destinations in Africa, the largest African network of any of the Gulf airlines. Qatar Airways is playing catch up and so is Bahrain-based Gulf Air, which will be the first to announce flights to Juba, Southern Sudan. Etihad will be the latest to join the throng when it arrives in Nairobi in April for their inaugural flight, and then there are the Gulf’s LCCs. Air Arabia is already flying daily to Nairobi from Sharjah, and Fly Dubai is reportedly eyeing a further expansion into Eastern Africa beyond their present destination Addis Ababa, as they get more of their ordered B737- 800 delivered.
“We need to change the thinking of our governments if we are to survive on our own long term,” said a Nairobi-based aviation source before continuing, “AFRAA has often made it plain that government support is crucial in promoting African aviation. But we also have to change perception. The continent’s leading airlines are as good, and at times better, than US airlines where service has been cut back to the bare bone. We in Africa, be it Kenya Airways or South African or Ethiopian, are full-service airlines, and none of them have resorted to the last resort and last ditch attempts to rob passengers via check-in fees, baggage fees, fees for seats, or talking of charging for the use of on-board toilets.
“The African airline leaders have new fleets, have ground handling and lounge services, which can hold their own, and punctuality is good. Safety is good, too, with especially the Europeans eyeing them closely, ready to pounce, but they cannot find faults with them. But really our biggest issues are our own governments. They are happily granting traffic rights to the giants, and at the same time not giving us the tax breaks to level our cost structures compared to them. Our aviation ground facilities need to be boosted to cater for growing home airline fleets, maintenance facilities, and all,” - sentiments heard often before and echoed here regularly.
With Qatar Airways planning to add Mombasa and Zanzibar to their growing list of destinations, they will pose an added challenge to retain and grow connecting traffic from those two airports via Nairobi and Addis – Ethiopian flies scheduled services into Mombasa as presently the only foreign airline to do so – for African carriers. Etihad only recently acquired a 40 percent stake in Air Seychelles and is rumored to be seeking expansion through buying into more airlines, making some of the better African airlines targets for quasi takeovers, if not by them but surely by others. Will African government listen to the experts or in the hitherto practiced policy of laissez faire things happening and only then take notice how their own strategic assets have been hollowed out? Is the rush for oil, gas, and minerals not a lesson already of how Africa is being exploited? Will aviation soon be added to this list?