After years of stagnation and unsuccessful attempts by local airlines to boost aviation in the sub-Saharan African region, the issue is finally beginning to gain momentum. This became clear during the recent high-level workshop on 14SEP21 in Nairobi, staged by the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), Lufthansa Consulting, and Kenya Airways.
However, there is still nothing to be seen of this in AFRAA's press release aired right after the Nairobi meeting. Most of the contents are rather “old school”, full of recommendations and demands that have been listed again and again for decades, but which, despite constant repetition, have come to little or nothing at all.
Want some examples of commonplace claims?
“Call for uniform implementation of harmonized regulations.”
“Establish working relationship between regulators, airlines, and Regional Economic Communities (RECs).”
“Translate ongoing discussions into actions in the interest of delivering accelerated benefits to the aviation ecosystem.”
And so on, and so forth.
Since the adoption of the Yamoussoukro Declaration back in 2002, prompting African governments to liberalize the sector through an open skies policy, the same topics have been tabled year after year, as was the case once more in Nairobi. This was admitted by Abdérahmane Berthé, AFRAA Secretary General, in his keynote: “Africa represents less than 3% of global air traffic, and over the past 15 years, the continent has had the lowest level of market consolidation compared to the other regions on the globe,” he stated.
Motion follows stagnation
Nevertheless, this time something was different, participants confirm.
The most heard word buzzing through the room was CONSOLIDATION. Pronounced, for instance, by CEO, Allan Kilavuka of Kenya Airways. He stated: “It is crucial to retrace and learn from the footprints of consolidation from different parts of the world as we reset Africa’s aviation towards our collective dream for flying to a better future. Consolidation and collaboration are essential ingredients for resilience and sustainable business operations of airlines.”
A similar message was delivered by AFRAA Chief, Mr. Berthé: “A crucial element in the success of the African airlines is consolidation and collaboration.”
Two concepts emerge
These are the asymmetric model practiced by Ethiopian Airlines (ET), contrasting the cooperative approach favored by Kenya Airways (KQ), for instance.
First to ET: Under the leadership of CEO, Tewolde Gebremariam, one of Africa's most visionary and experienced aviation managers, 10-year plans are being drawn up which the airline is strictly adhering to, thanks, in part, to Chinese investment. The visible result is a sub-hub in Lomé, Togo, the bulging order book which currently holds 70 aircraft, and the modernization of ground infrastructure, as evidenced by the cargo center at its home base Addis Ababa, for example.
Lord and servant
Critics, however, complain that ET's consolidation strategy is at the expense of other airlines, which are kept in a satellite-like dependency relationship by adhesion contracts. Such is the case of Tchad Air or Air Malawi, which operate leased aircraft, mostly aging models, obtained from ET, but are not given any strategic say. “Consolidation only works if it's good business for both sides, and their respective interests are protected so they cooperate on an equal footing,” holds Catrin Drawer, Head of Market Africa, Indian Ocean, Iraq, and Jordan, at Lufthansa Consulting.
In Nairobi, she cited the link between Kenya Airways and Congo Airways as a successful example. They work closely together on fleet and route issues, including maintenance and freight transports. The latest example is a cargo flight operated by KQ and based on a capacity sharing model, taking off from Johannesburg to Lubumbashi, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s third largest city. “Cargo has provided new opportunities in the face of the pandemic, and we are keen to continue building our operations and leveraging partnerships,” Allan Kilavuka, Kenya Airways’ Managing Director, said.
The deal comes just months after KQ and Congo Airways signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Kinshasa. KQ will also offer to ensure skills transfer between the two airlines, the manager announced. “This is an eye-to-eye partnership that benefits both sides equally and can be successively expanded into a joint venture or toward mutual equity ownership,” Lufthansa Consulting’s Ms. Drawer applauds.
It is in line with AFRAA’s ambitions to consolidate African aviation based on symmetry, not dependency.
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