Regional airlines have in the past three months intensified their competition for intra-African and international business, as each positions itself to dominate the most lucrative routes.
Rwandan national carrier RwandAir announced on March 29 that it is ready for its maiden entry into Europe, while increasing flights on the Nairobi-Entebbe route.
The continent’s dominant carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, continues its foray into new routes. In the past week, it launched four new routes from its hub in Addis Ababa to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe; Antananarivo in Madagascar and Oslo in Norway; and cargo services to Ahmedabad, India.
RwandAir said it will start three weekly flights to London’s Gatwick Airport on May 26. Chief executive John Mirenge said that they will use their two newly acquired Airbus A330s on the London route.
“We see this as another way to increase tourism from Europe, and the UK in particular, which is one of the key contributors of tourists to Rwanda,” he said.
He said that the airline was planning to start flights to New York, Bamako in Mali, Conakry in Guinea and Lilongwe in Malawi.
“India and China are also on the cards,” Mr Mirenge added.
RwandAir is banking on the delivery of a new aircraft, a Boeing 737-800, in May to bolster its long-range route plan to destinations like Mumbai in India, and also achieve increased passenger numbers.
Already, the airline has announced two back-to-back RwandAir flights between Nairobi and Entebbe.
Noting that Africa is still underserved in aviation services, Mr Mirenge said that the carrier plans to hit the million-passenger mark in the next three years.
“In the next three months to July, we plan to have carried 750,000 passengers, up from 600,000 over the same period last year,” he said.
Currently, the airline has 11 aircraft, including two Boeing 737-800NGs, two Boeing 737-700NGs, two Bombardier Q-400s and two Bombardier CRJ-900s. It bought two new Airbus aeroplanes in September and December last year, and plans to lease two Boeings for deployment in Europe and Asia, with delivery expected in May.
Last month, Ethiopian Airlines launched flights to Conakry, Guinea. It said it plans to start flying to Indonesia and Chengdu, China, in May.
The airline, which discontinued flights to Singapore in September 2014 due to low passenger numbers, now plans to resume services on the route.
According to OAG (an airline schedules database), Ethiopian Airlines will deploy its Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft, four times weekly on the Oslo route, and its Boeing 737-700s four times weekly on the Victoria Falls route.
The airline’s chief executive officer, Tewolde GebreMariam, said in that these new routes are part of the airline’s growth strategy of improving interconnectivity between African countries and the world.
“Three new passenger flights to three new destinations in just three days is one of the greatest expansions in our history,” he said. “This is part of our ambitious target to reach more than 120 destinations in the next seven years.”
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The new cargo flight to India is deemed strategic, given that Ahmedabad is the fifth cargo gateway to India, with a minimum weekly import capacity of 240 tonnes.
Ethiopian Airlines is the largest cargo operator in Africa, having deployed six Boeing 777-200s and two Boeing 757-260s for its cargo haulage, which stands at 650 tonnes per day.
The airline has a code share agreement with South African Airways (SAA) covering Cape Town, Durban and Toronto in Canada, with expected additional destinations later this year.
“The expanded code-share agreement between the two carriers enables our customers to enjoy the best possible connectivity options to multiple destinations and plays a significant role in enabling investment, trade and tourism ties within Africa as well as with the rest of the world,” said Girma Shiferaw, vice-president of strategic planning and alliances at Ethiopian Airlines.
The acting chief commercial officer at South African Airways, Aaron Munetsi, said, “The enhanced code-share agreement enables both airlines to offer reliable service to our growing markets, which demand customer-focused service. We believe the partnership will be scaled up in the future.”
Kenya Airways is banking on the recent granting of Category One status by the United States of its main hub, the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, to launch direct flights to the US, probably later this year. The airline has applied for access to the US.
“Our first priority now is to pursue code-share arrangements with our partners in the Skyteam Alliance,” said chief executive officer Mbuvi Ngunze. “This will enable us to sell tickets to and from any US state and drive revenues directly to us. The process will take time, but we will start immediately.”