East Africa airlines wage war against Gulf giants

Friday February 17 2017

RwandAir’s Boeing 737-800, after it landed at Kigali International Airport on August 27, 2011. Photo/Cyril Ndegeya

RwandAir plane. PHOTO | FILE 

By MICHAEL WAKABI

Air transport managers in East Africa are developing thick an appetite for risks.

This belies the mood at the beginning of 2016 when the record loss at Kenya Airways and the collapse of Fastjet’s services to Kenya and Uganda cast a shadow over prospects for the region’s air transport industry. Recent airline executive action suggests a more upbeat mood about prospects for 2017. 

Ethiopian Airlines continues relentlessly on its expansion drive, RwandAir enters a new growth phase while the much needed restructuring at Kenya Airways is already yielding results.

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RwandAir will launch two new routes in April — Mumbai and Harare — bringing its route network to 21 destinations. Mumbai will be served by four flights a week after earlier plans to operate the service via Dubai ran into difficulties in securing fifth freedom rights between Dubai and Mumbai.

In that respect, the carrier will need a larger African network to generate the necessary feed to the service. The carrier that has 11 aircraft in its fleet and expects the 12th one this year; it is also looking to introduce flights to New York and London in 2017. The necessary upgrades to the security and passenger screening process at Kigali International Airport are already in progress.

If operated direct, RwandAir’s planned service to New York is a potential game changer for the carrier and a disruptor for competitors because it will be the first direct service from East Africa to the US mainland.

Ethiopian already flies to Washington and Los Angeles, tapping into the official and leisure travel segments.

Flying to 98 destinations, Ethiopian is set to cement its position as an Africa-Asia super connector.

As of January 2017, Ethiopian had 85 aircraft in service with another 48 on order. This fleet has facilitated an aggressive growth strategy that has made it the African carrier serving the most points between Africa and Asia.

Between now and June, Ethiopian will launch three new routes: Antananarivo in Madagascar in March, Chengdu in China on June 3 and Jakarta in Indonesia on June 17.

The Singapore route, suspended a few years ago, also resumes on June 1. Those routes will bring to 14 the points Ethiopian serves in Asia with five of them in China. Chengdu joins Beijing, Shangai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong.