One of Africa’s premier airlines is the first on the Mother Continent to acquire Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner. The implications for African travel are enormous.
While US-based airlines wait to get their hands on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the world’s newest jumbo jet is already changing the game in Africa.
Ethiopian Airlines is the first African carrier to put Boeing’s new state-of-the-art airplane into regular service on the Mother Continent. The first arrived last December and Ethiopian has nine more on order.
This comes as Ethiopian becomes the 26th member of the Star Alliance, the world’s largest airline alliance.
Both of these developments carry huge implications for American travelers with an interest in Africa.
Let’s start with Boeing’s shiny new toy. The Dreamliner is likely to have a much greater impact on African tourism than the Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet, at least in the near term.
Simply put, the 787 is more Africa-ready than the A380. Here’s why.
With the A380, Airbus took the position that “bigger is better,” creating the world’s first fully double-decked airliner, capable of flying as many as 800 travelers at a time.
Big plane equals more seats and (in theory, at least) cheaper seats.
Boeing chose range and fuel economy over size, limiting the Dreamliner to fewer than 300 passengers and marrying its two highly fuel-efficient engines to an aircraft made mostly of lightweight composites instead of metal.
That gives the Dreamliner a maximum range of nearly 9,500 miles, which puts virtually all of Africa within easy reach from virtually all of North America.
As an example, the 6,200 miles between Los Angeles and Dakar, Senegal would be nothing for this airplane.
This means that airlines like Ethiopian, Nigeria’s Arik Air and Kenya Airways, both of which have 787s on order, will be able to reach European and American destinations in one hop, without pilots nervously watching their fuel gauges.
Until more Africans start traveling by air, the 787′s extended range serves the Mother Continent better than the A380′s size. And with most of Africa’s international airports lacking the facilities or the runways to comfortably handle the massive A380, the Dreamliner literally is a better fit.
Where Africa-bound Americans are concerned, Ethiopian’s presence in the Star Alliance is just as important, especially if you happen to be a member of United Air Lines’ or US Airways’ frequent-flyer mileage program.
Star Alliance is now the only airline alliance in the world with three African airlines as members — Ethiopian, South African Airways and Egyptair. You now can put your United or USAir miles toward an Africa flight on any one of them.
Kenya Airways is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which means you can use your Delta frequent-flyer miles with them.
Meanwhile, Arik Air was accepted late last year as a member by the International Air Transport Association, which sets safety standards and represents most of the world’s airlines. That clears the way for Arik to join an alliance.
oneworld is now the only one of the Big Three alliances without an African partner. Arik Air membership in oneworld would enable travelers holding miles on American Airlines or British Airways to snag code-share flights to West Africa via Arik.
Don’t be surprised, then, if oneworld puts the moves on Arik Air to partner with them.
What’s more, international airlines can and do form code-sharing partnerships outside of the alliances. South African Airways, for instance, has already hooked up with JetBlue.
Expect to see more connections like this, and soon.
Without the 787′s ultra-long reach, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. With this new long-range airliner coming into African hands, a whole world of new opportunity now opens up for them — and for the world’s travelers who are increasingly turning their eyes to Africa.
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