Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

What's holding back African airlines?

By Richard Quest, CNN
June 14, 2013 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • African airlines looking to code-share agreements to improve network
  • Only 3% of global air travel is from Africa
  • More international airlines fly to and from African than African airlines

(CNN) -- Africa has the second largest population of any continent but only accounts for 3% of global air traffic.

The reasons for taking such a small share of the aviation market have been the same for decades: poor infrastructure, stalled liberalization, high taxes and fuel charges.

It also struggles with a lack of routes linking cities, a lack of regular flights flying them and a lack of profitable airlines competing.

However with the GDP of sub-Saharan countries expected to grow almost 6% this year, according to the World Bank, there is still the belief that aviation can really take-off.

Gadgets to help you stay cool

"The infrastructuure is improving, which was one of the key issues," says Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of Air France.

Travel using only apps

"Airports, air traffic control, civil aviation regulations everywhere, they are improving, there are many programs coming from international organizations and there is an enormous need for air traffic coming directly from the economic growth."

Read more: Are airline loyalty schemes worth it?

The need for improved air travel across the continent is clear to many in the industry, where there are glaring gaps between growing economic centers. A flight between Cape Town in South Africa and Lagos, Nigeria, the second fastest growing city in Africa, should take six hours. Yet with no direct flights, the cheapest option via the Middle East takes up to 25 hours while the faster, yet more expensive routes within Africa still take ten hours.

Often governments have been blamed for protecting their national carriers and refusing to deregulate the industry and open up the skies to greater competition. While South Africa has a number of liberalization agreements, its government agrees that more needs to be done

"There is a number of constraints in different countries, with regard to policies, with regards to the regulatory environment... but in terms of the decisions themselves, we have taken the right ones," says Malusi Gigaba, South Africa's minister for public enterprise.

"Of course, you already have more foreign airlines flying in Africa than African airlines.... but we would like to see even greater cooperation between these African airlines."

Kenyan Airways is one airline that is taking note. It recently suggested a merger with other local aviation big-hitters, South African Airways and Ethiopian Airways.

Read more: Thefts on planes on the rise

"We can't go on the way we have, we have got to start consolidating," says Titus Naikuni. "We've all been talking to each other. I don't know if you call it a merger or whatever, (but it is) to avoid a situation where we're running two aircraft side by side at 50% capacity."

If there's a criticism, it is that it is creating less competition on a continent that is crying out for more. The real winners so far have been international carriers, particularly from the Middle East, that now make up almost 60% of intercontinental traffic to and from Africa.

Etihad Airways has routes from Abu Dhabi to major cities in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and North African countries and then partners with domestic airlines to reach second and third tier cities.

"What we are doing is complementing each others networks...they can take us into 26 points in Africa they we'll never touch," says James Hogan, CEO of Etihad Airways.

The greatest test to come then is if the quality of the air links outside the major hubs match the international routes. That will prove if African aviation can ever truly live up to its potential.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1835 GMT (0235 HKT)
Takeoff on one of Airbus' new A350WXB test planes is a strangely quiet experience.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
What do you pack when you travel? Take a look inside other people's luggage.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0339 GMT (1139 HKT)
Few airline routes are as cutthroat as the one between London and New York.
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 1515 GMT (2315 HKT)
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, the old adage goes; Airbus unveils revamped A330 airliner.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0248 GMT (1048 HKT)
Show us how you travel with twitpics and instagram via #howipack
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 0923 GMT (1723 HKT)
Could airlines drop fossil fuel in favor of cooking oil?
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0940 GMT (1740 HKT)
How do you kill time during flight delays?
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 0800 GMT (1600 HKT)
Fancy stripping off before a flight and getting sweaty with fellow passengers? Head to Helsinki.
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 0255 GMT (1055 HKT)
The skies are under threat. Not from terrorists or hardened criminals, but from everyday passengers who seem to go a little loco.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 0334 GMT (1134 HKT)
A German entrepreneur claims to have found a way to buy 1 million air miles for as little as $6,500.
June 12, 2014 -- Updated 0213 GMT (1013 HKT)
These days, no fashion house portfolio is complete without a hotel -- or at the very least, a luxuriously designed suite.
June 5, 2014 -- Updated 1039 GMT (1839 HKT)
Is sky the limit for green aviation? Take our quiz and find out.
May 26, 2014 -- Updated 0319 GMT (1119 HKT)
Some collect spoons from their travel, others collect a whole lot more.
May 7, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
There is no shortage of adjectives one can apply to airline seats; no wonder that many carriers are looking to make a change.
May 5, 2014 -- Updated 0558 GMT (1358 HKT)
Etihad Airways has unveiled new cabins that are more like suites complete with butler and chef.
ADVERTISEMENT