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African aviation industry at full flight

A growing middle class and a resources boom across Africa have fuelled the growth of the continent’s aviation industry. (Image source: Peter Russell)

Across the African continent, airlines are expanding by opening up new routes and revamping existing capacity to handle passengers and freight alike, writes Mwangi Mumero

From the continent’s bigger players such as South African Airlines (SAA), Kenya Airways, Egypt Air and Ethiopian Airlines, to smaller airlines like RwandAir, expansion has become the industry trend of the past few years.

“We are seeing a greater demand for air travel as the middle class in Africa expands,” observed Miguel Santos, international sales director at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, on a recent visit to South Africa. “The International Monetary Fund (IMF) notes that seven of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa.”

According to Santos, Africa would need more than 800 new aircraft over the next 20 years and between 14,000 and 20,000 new trained pilots to meet the rising demand as air transport booms.

With these prospects, African airlines have been in an expansion mood fighting for this continental cake that has also attracted international carriers such as British Airways and KLM.

Recently, SAA introduced flights to Point Noire, the commercial capital of Congo Brazzaville, in line with its Central Africa expansion strategy. It is South African Airways’ fourth new destination of the 2011-2012 financial year, joining Ndola in Zambia, Kigali in Rwanda and Bujumbura in Burundi as recent additions to the airline’s continental network.

Point Noire is the centre of the oil producing region of the Congo and is second only in size to Brazzaville the capital city.

With the introduction of the Point Noire route, SAA will now service 21 cities across the continent. A 120-seater Airbus A319 will serve the city twice a week to cater for the rising number of business travellers to the region.

SAA is also expected to strengthen its Asian network following the launch of non-stop service to Beijing.

Soaring from the east

In the East African region, Kenya Airways recently launched a rights issue to mobilise about US$250 million to partly facilitate a $3.6 billion expansion project over the next four years.

The airline is expected to open up more routes within the African continent as well as expanding in its existing Indian and Chinese markets.

“We are raising our passenger fleet from the current 34 to 107 so as to facilitate our expansion plans. There are indications that the African market is headed for a better future”, said Kenya Airways financial director Alex Mbugua.

Kenya Airways shares are currently traded on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, the Uganda Securities Exchange and the Dar es Salaam Stock Exchange.

Kenya’s flag carrier has been strategising to benefit from expected growth in the African and Asian economies over the next decade and recently signed a deal with the Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer to acquire 20 aircrafts in the next five year.

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