Editorial: Is Africa consolidation finally becoming a reality?

Credit: South African Airways

For years, there has been talk about the need for African partnerships. Could recent glimmers of action bode well for the future?

Over recent months, there has been a quiet, but steady flow of African partnership announcements. The biggest of these came in September, when Kenya Airways and South African Airways (SAA) took the market by surprise, when they announced plans to pool their resources and explore the creation of a pan-African airline group. This unlikely shift in mindset for both airlines is likely a competitive response to Ethiopian Airlines, which is dominating the African market.

However, Kenya Airways and SAA have both been in poor financial states and SAA has only just resumed flights after being grounded for 18 months to restructure. Both carriers need to do something differently, but will this partnership create shared strength or paired weakness?

Kenya Airways is also exploring a strategic cooperation with Congo Airways, which closely mirrors Ethiopian’s strategy of creating JV airlines in other African nations. Imitation is the best form of flattery and this has been a proven success story for Ethiopian – with Congo among its targets.

Ethiopian’s JV network already includes Togolese airline ASKY in west Africa, Lilongwe-based Malawian Airlines in southern Africa and Tchadia Airlines in north-central Africa. Ethiopian is currently working on two more JV startups, Zambia Airways in southern Africa and a new carrier in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Nigeria is also an Ethiopian JV target market.

A tie-up with SAA had been on Ethiopian’s radar, but Ethiopian CEO Tewolde Gebremariam said their proposal was not selected. Ethiopian and SAA are Star Alliance partners, but Ethiopian recently signed a new interline agreement with independent South African carrier Airlink, building on an earlier codeshare with South African regional CemAir. Could this South African strengthening be a competitive response to SAA’s partnership with Kenya Airways? 

Meanwhile, the Gulf carriers are consolidating their African partnerships. Emirates has extended its relationship with SA Airlink into a codeshare. Likewise, Qatar Airways has announced a codeshare with RwandAir, as the latest move in a strategic partnership between the two airlines.

Victoria Moores

Victoria Moores joined Air Transport World as our London-based European Editor/Bureau Chief on 18 June 2012. Victoria has nearly 20 years’ aviation industry experience, spanning airline ground operations, analytical, journalism and communications roles.