LATE IN the 1990s and early in the first decade of this century, one of the biggest problems facing the African airline industry was government interference not only with State-owned carriers, but with the industry as a whole. Chief executive officers were changed at the drop of the hat and their replacements had little chance of settling into the job and correcting the mistakes made by others, before they, too, were given their “marching orders”.
It is thanks to the likes of the prestigious African Airline Association (AFRAA) and other organisations that politicians in many instances were made to realise the errors of their ways, but it still took many years for the pendulum to make a reverse swing and, although the situation today is much improved, there are still governments which persist in interfering in the running of state and other airlines to the detriment of the industry.
But if there is any one airline in this continent which is a graphic example of the new order of non-interference, that is Ethiopian Airlines. It is wholly Government-owned but, by and large leaves the administration of its flag carrier to men and women who know the industry intimately and above all, know what they are doing. Today, Ethiopian Airlines is unquestionably the leading airline in Africa and not only the biggest and fastest expanding, but also among the few very best in this continent.
ET has set a remarkable example and slowly, but surely, others are following. But, what is amazing is that many other airlines, both large and small, are remarkably slow in adopting Ethiopian’s winning example, which is usually the main problem behind all their respective woes. Gradually, many of these are falling beside the roadside – just look at what is happening in Nigeria at present and the problems facing the once leading airline in Africa, South African Airways. SAA was once top of the airline industry in Africa where Ethiopian is today, but now is loosing billions of rand every year and is now in danger of even loosing the support of its sole shareholder and financial backer, the SA Government.
There is today another over-riding factor. “Competition faced by airlines in Africa is intense and non-African carriers see Africa as a growing market and have been making considerable in-roads. But the business is there for the African-based airlines. Those with bold strategies and clear vision and determination are making things happen. Just look at Ethiopian Airlines and RwandAir, to name just two,” said Kevin Evans, Rolls-Royce’s Vice-President for Africa in an interview with World Airnews recently (see Personality Corner on Page 72 of this issue).
Referring to Ethiopian Airlines as “one of the brightest shining stars in the African sky,” Evans added: “The airline industry in Africa is changing and the pace of change is quickening. Opportunities abound.”
He continued by pointing out that it was well recognised not only by the major manufacturers such as Airbus and Boeing, but others such as IATA and ICAO as well, that there was going to be a demand for well over one thousand new aircraft by African airlines during the next 20 years and could be significantly more if there was a true liberalisation of the market – something recognised as badly needed over 10 years ago, but only slowly being put into effect.
In his interview with this journal, Evans stressed: “The advantages of a true, widely enacted liberalisation will bring enormous benefits to the continent, enabling easier, faster and cheaper connectivity between countries, and unlocking huge economic potential. We can see,” continued the R-R executive, “that a genuine open skies environment could double the demand for new aircraft. Our own view is that is that there will be a demand for at least 300 widebody aircraft in the next 20 years.”
Evans is by no means the only one who can see a bright future for African airlines, if only the executives concerned and, indeed, politicians, would wake up, realise and appreciate what is staring them in the face – massive economic growth and a better life for their citizens as a result. Despite the already changing circumstances mentioned above, there is still a lack-lustre reaction by many governments to the contribution of aviation to African economic development……………………………….. To read the full article please subscribe to our E Magazine Here.