Gulf carriers aim for bigger slice of Africa market

March 4, 2013 3:02 pm

Africa’s aviation sector is forecast to soar over the next few years, fuelled by growth in the number of businesses looking to invest in the resource-rich continent and an increase in consumer spending power.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, economic growth in Africa is expected to have recovered to 5.1% in 2012, after falling to 2.7% in 2011. For 2013, growth is expected to remain stable at 5.2%.

In the absence of a strong aviation sector in Africa, Middle Eastern airlines have more than doubled their capacity into the continent in the past 10 years, which has led to a rapid rise in passenger traffic between the two regions.

According to the latest figures from IATA, air travel between Africa and the Middle East grew faster than any other regional route in the world last year, rising 19.2% in economy class and 15.7% in business class compared to 2011.

Dubai-based Emirates is leading the way, operating to 22 African destinations and providing about 57,000 one-way seats a week to the continent, according to Sydney-based CAPA Centre for Aviation. Emirates also codeshares with South African Airways, as well as with Air Mauritius on its flights to Dubai.

The carrier recently launched daily non-stop service from Dubai to Algeria’s Houari Boumediene Airport, after having opened up routes to Lusaka, Angola and Harare, Zimbabwe last year.

Other carriers follow suit

Qatar Airways, which offers about 22,000 seats a week to Africa, has announced plans to fly to Mozambique from October, its 18th African route, after already adding the sub-Saharan destinations of Mombassa in Kenya, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Kigali in Rwanda in 2012.

By comparison, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways provides just 11,000 seats a week to Africa, but it recently gained a major foothold in the continent when it signed a commercial codeshare partnership with Kenya Airways, the national flag carrier of Kenya. Under the terms of the agreement, Etihad will place its EY code on Kenya Airway’s flights from its Nairobi hub to 27 destinations across Africa.

The agreement follows the launch of new Etihad services to Tripoli and Lagos last year. To meet growing demand for its Abu Dhabi-Lagos route, Etihad said it will upgrade the six-times-a-week service to daily from March 31.

Etihad currently flies to eight destinations in Africa and the Indian Ocean including: Johannesburg, Khartoum, Casablanca, Cairo, Nairobi, Lagos, Tripoli and Mahé in the Seychelles.

Low-cost Dubai-based airline FlyDubai also recently announced plans to add a new route to Africa, with service to Juba, the capital city of the South Sudan. The route will be operational from 21 April with four flights a week between Dubai Terminal 2 and Juba airport.