Six major African airlines acquire new-generation long-range wide-bodied jets. It may be just a matter of time before they’re carrying US travelers to the Mother Continent.
Together, Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350 represent the newest generation of jumbo jets — slightly smaller than other twin-engined jumbos and much smaller than the aging Boeing 747, but with longer range than all of them.
And Boeing’s various initial Dreamliner bugs notwithstanding, Africa’s airlines literally are buying into both of them.
Kenya Airways is the latest African flag carrier to begin flying the 787. The first of nine Dreamliners is due to arrive in Nairobi on Friday from Washington state.
The airline also has a larger Boeing 777ER on order, and plans to have all ten of the new jets in service by July 2015.
The “ER,” by the way, stands for “extended range,” the common thread running through all these purchases.
Rival Airbus has yet to deliver its first A350; that should happen sometime this summer, but that hasn’t discouraged the world’s airlines from lining up orders for the latest Boeing rival.
And Africa is in the mix.
As with the Dreamliner, the hallmark of the A350 is a design meant to go farther on one load of fuel, enabling Africa’s airlines to reach more destinations with direct flights to Europe, Asia…and eventually, one hopes, the United States.
Kenya Airways is now one of six African carriers picking up new jets with longer reach. Nigeria’s Arik Air and Morocco’s national flag carrier, Royal Air Maroc, are flying Dreamliners, while two of Libya passenger lines, Afriqiyah and Libyan Airlines, have ordered the A350.
Ethiopian Airlines is buying both.
It was the first African airline and the second in the world to fly the 787, considered perhaps the most technologically advanced airliners ever to fly, and it’s already flying them as far as Shanghai, China in the east and Washington Dulles airport on our East Coast.
These and other African airlines are looking first to add more European destinations to their route maps, and strengthen their presence in the booming Asian travel markets, as well. But potentially the most lucrative — and most untapped — market may be waiting for them here.
Before African airlines can start touching down in Atlanta and Dallas and Chicago and LAX, however, both the Dreamliner and the A350 will have to prove themselves. The Dreamliner’s teething troubles are well-documented and the A350 has yet to carry a paying passenger.
But even after both planes shake off the inevitable glitches that come with a new aircraft design, winning permission from US aviation authorities to make more flights to the United States won’t be easy for Africa’s airlines.
Each will have to satisfy Washington that it has overcome the chronic maintenance, infrastructure and security shortfalls that have bedeviled African aviation as a whole for decades.
So far, Arik Air, Ethiopian, South African Airways, Royal Air Maroc and Cabo Verde Airlines (Cape Verde Islands) are the only ones to make the cut.
SAFE SKIES FOR AFRICA
But they won’t be the last.
Since 1998, the FAA has been working out of an office in Dakar, Senegal with airlines in 48 African airlines to help them meet international safety standards. The program, launched by the Clinton administration, is called Safe Skies for Africa.
Arik Air is one of its graduates.
Even after those hurdles are hurdled, there will still be the matter of finding US airports with enough gate space to handle more international flights — from anywhere.
Even so, there is no reason to believe that African airlines, slowly but steadily growing in confidence and expertise, may one day find their way to an international airport near you.