While some African air carriers are rising in class and reaching across the oceans, others are struggling to serve their own domestic markets.
There are sad and wonderful things happening these days with African airlines.
We’ll start with the wonderful.
Ethiopian Airlines, which earlier this summer took delivery of the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner to serve Africa, has announced it will begin regular flights between Washington–Dulles and Addis Ababa,the Ethiopian capital, in October.
That’s one week away, folks.
As the first African airline to fly the 787, Ethiopian, as you might expect, is mightily proud of this, but the implications of this announcement extend far beyond any one airline.
With their ability to fly passengers much farther on a single load of fuel, Boeing’s state–of–the–art Dreamliner — as well as the competing Airbus A350 now in development — are going to change the game for travel to and across the Mother Continent.
Longer range means less need for intermediate refueling stops. That means shorter, more comfortable flights for long–distance passengers and lower fuel costs for the airlines.
And Ethiopian is stealing a march on the rest of the airline industry by being the first to put the 787 in trans-Atlantic service to Africa.
To fly to Africa on an African airliner crewed by Africans is a feeling every black American should experience at least once in their lifetime, and the arrival of longer-range airliners in Africa is going to make that prospect a lot easier in the years to come.
Once more African air carriers certified by our FAA start buying their own Dreamliners, Americans who dream of Africa may may more flight options — and with that competition, one hopes lower fares — to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s once they get there that they may well start running into problems — and that’s the sad part. The kindest word with which to describe the state of Africa’s regional air travel network may be “problematic.”
The most recent examples of that have been in Nigeria.
First came the June crash of a twin-jet Dana Air MD-83 that killed 169 people — six on the ground and all 163 on board. After a brief government-ordered stand-down, the airline is being allowed to fly again — despite the fact that the cause of the crash is still unknown.
Then came word last week that Arik Air, Nigeria’s largest airline, was canceling all of its domestic flights after the government raided its operations in Lagos, the country’s largest city.
The airline blamed government corruption. The government blamed the airline for failing to pay its employees. Caught in the middle, anyone holding an Arik Air domestic ticket.
Arik Air has since announced it’s resuming domestic flights today, but that’s cold comfort to anyone who needed to fly on Friday — or for that matter, to anyone accustomed to Africa’s erratic domestic air service.
Because none of this is unique to Nigeria.
Talk to veteran African travelers, especially those on international business on the continent, and you’ll hear more than once that they simply refuse to fly directly from point to point within Africa.
It’s actually common for such travelers to fly north instead to Europe — usually on a European airline — and then south again to their African destination city.
You don’t have to be a professional industry analyst to know that when people feel more comfortable flying from Abuja to Accra by way of London or Paris, something is seriously wrong.
There’s a great deal of prestige to be won — and money to be made — flying international routes. It probably is not by chance that, for all the pulling and hauling between Arik Air the Nigerian governmebt, Arik’s international flights went on unaffected.
But for Africa’s airlines, the real market is within the Mother Continent itself, for Africa has the potential to easily become the largest and most lucrative regional air travel market in the world.
It won’t happen, however, until the continent’s 54 countries, and the airlines serving them, start to take that market seriously and treat it with the respect it deserves.
Powered by Facebook Comments