Africa airline competition heats up some more as SAA set to get 20 more brand new A320’s


The news coming from Johannesburg, that South African Airways is due to take progressive delivery of 20 Airbus A320 aircraft, will serve as a reminder for other African airlines that sitting still, or pronouncing the delivery of 10 or 15 year old birds as ‘new’, will no longer cut it.

The introduction of the more cost effective A320 will cut fuel cost, reduce maintenance cost and allows for a reduction in training cost, when SAA’s narrow body fleet will have moved to a single model, the A320, as the older B737’s are being phased out.

Also a Star Alliance member on the opposite side of the continent, is Egypt Air equally due to get new aircraft, as the recovery of Egypt’s national airline continues after the prolonged political struggles in that country and tourism is finally on the upswing again.

More in the heart of Africa are Ethiopian and Kenya Airways competing head on with each other, but here Ethiopian has the advantage right now as they already operate 5 Boeing B787 Dreamliners while KQ has to wait till at least March next year to get their first. On the narrow body front, both ET and Kenya Airways are at regular intervals getting new aircraft delivered, in Nairobi mainly the Embraer 190E’s while Ethiopian has been boosting their short and medium haul fleet with two class turboprops of the Bombardier Q400 make. The use of these very cost effective aircraft though has faced some opposition from travelers who expect to fly in a jet from Addis to their final destination, only to be bundled into a turboprop, perfectly acceptable on short domestic or regional routes but a matter of argument when deployed to such destinations like Entebbe, Kigali and other Eastern African destinations. It was in fact the initial absence of a business class in the Q400’s which compelled Ethiopian to go back to the drawing board with Bombardier and introduce a two class version, to avoid losing their prized business class clientele who back then found themselves ‘downgraded’, often to their disappointment if not outright anger.

The competition between the two Eastern African protagonists is of special significance vis a vis the standing of airline alliances in Africa, as Ethiopian too is a member of Star Alliance, making it three for Africa, while Kenya Airways is the only member of SkyTeam, leaving OneWorld trailing in the distance with not a single member representation on the continent.

In Rwanda, national carrier RwandAir has only recently also ordered a two class Bombardier Q400 to supplement their current single class Bombardier Dash8-200, while it took delivery over the last 1 ½ years of two brand new B737-800NG’s, two brand new Bombardier CRJ900NextGen’s and more recently leased a pre-owned B737-700NG, with a second one due for delivery anytime soon.

In Tanzania it is Precision Air which as the only major operator has brought brand new ATR 42 and 72 aircraft into their fleet, including the latest -600 models, although their B737-300’s were acquired pre-owned, as incidentally are the Airbus A319 and the B737 of their competitors.

These developments will put pressure on smaller airlines operating in direct competition with SAA, MS, ET, KQ, PW and WB, as their older craft will not only incur higher operating expenses, in particular for fuel and maintenance, but also suggest to the travelling public that they are either financially unable to buy brand new planes or else think their market not worth the expense and effort. The latter of course could backfire badly, should such an approach, if not outright company policy, take root in travelers’ minds and lead to a shift in loyalty and brand recognition.

With competition heating up, frequent travelers can expect the main airlines in the African skies to do what it takes to have replace ageing jets and at the same time improve handling on the ground, where airline premium lounges and generous frequent flyer benefits can make all the difference to retain, or else lose customers. Interesting times for African aviation, so keep watching this space for breaking and regular news from Eastern Africa’s airline scene.

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