For anyone operating a PAN African business or looking to invest in Africa, there are likely to find themselves travelling back and forth and in and out of various countries depending on their portfolio of markets within their Africa strategy. Historically, business travel into and around Africa was not easy and, in most cases, highly inefficient due to fewer commercial airlines operating beyond the big economic hubs and limited routes. Over the past decade, the dominance of airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines and the unfortunately now under business rescue, South African Airways have made business travel in Africa a much easier task.
Ethiopian Airlines bringing the world closer to Africa
Ethiopian Airlines from its hub in Addis Ababa, serves 113 international and 23 domestic destinations. This includes flights to 61 cities in Africa, 20 cities in Europe, North and South America and a further 25 cities in the Gulf, Middle East & Asia. The airline has set out on a mission to bring the world closer to Africa and there is no doubt that is firmly underway. The Ethiopian economy grew 10,2% in 2017(Source: World Bank).
In June 2019, I set out on an East Africa regional trip to conduct business research, I booked a weeklong multicity journey with Ethiopian airlines to Addis Ababa, Kigali and Dar es Salaam. The efficiency of Ethiopian airlines was astonishing, highly cost effective (especially when booking multiple trips), although each leg meant connecting back in Addis Ababa, the lay overs were short, and departures and arrivals are generally always on time. Clearly, benefitting from its geographical location, Ethiopian Airlines is fast creating an important travel hub for business travel in Africa, the East African community.
The emergence of Kenyan Airways
Becoming increasingly competitive is the carrier of the Republic of Kenya, travelling to 53 international and regional destinations. Although less prominent than Ethiopian, Kenyan airways offer business travellers a safe option out of their Nairobi base. With business activity increasing in Kenya, the economy grew 4,9% in 2017(source: World Bank) and the East African region as a whole, one expects Kenyan Airways to compete effectively with Ethiopian Airlines which can only bode well for keeping costs relatively competitive and service standards high benefitting business travel positively. I can attest to the improvements in service levels after embarking on a recent trip to Nairobi with KQ.
Although, it is difficult to tell what will come of South African Airways as it embarks on a business rescue exercise, the airline was the forerunner in connecting Africa to the world. From Johannesburg, SAA's hub, the national carrier of South Africa flew to over 35 destinations across Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Australia and North and South America. Several announcements have been made recently about termination of routes as part of the airlines efforts to stay afloat. The airline was awarded 14 Skytrax awards acknowledging it as the best African airline in the 2000’s and Africa’s first 4-star airline. Africa’s best airline title has since been awarded to Ethiopian airlines.
Other African countries such as Rwanda and Tanzania are investing heavily into their aviation sectors and national carriers to support economic growth, which was 6,1% and 7,1% respectively in 2017(source: World Bank).
With two strong East African airlines who are increasing their footprint rapidly, and assuming SAA will retain its dominance in the Southern African region, could there be an opportunity for an efficient and high quality West African airline to create a hub for domestic and international travel in and out of the region? It remains to be seen but it seems like an opportunity.