East African aviation update – A new battlefield for Embraer and Bombardier

Aircraft manufacturers, keenly aware of Kenya Airways growth plans for the next 10 years, have turned their focus now on the wider region, where ageing equipment used by a number of airlines needs replacing sooner rather than later, for reasons of sheer economics such as fuel burn and maintenance, but also for reasons of image and perceived safety.
RwandAir has just announced, with the news actually broken here, that they have sold their two CRJ200 jets to an unspecified buyer, understood from other sources to be a start up in West Africa, and is seeking to replace them with two larger regional jets in the 90 110 seat range, bringing fresh hope of more sales to both Bombardier as well as Embraer. The former, probably encouraged by comment made by RwandAirs CEO John Mirenge to this correspondent about the CRJ900 series, appears to have been working overtime to structure a possible deal, considering that the airline wants to buy, needs a financing package and be sure of a June delivery date. Type conversion from the CRJ 200 to the larger version is clearly not an issue, for cockpit and cabin crews and there seems to be a significant advantage for RwandAir to staying with Bombardier jets.
Meanwhile has Embraer upped the ante, with a very recent visit and presentation of their E190, when they reportedly used the most recently delivered A190AR Kenya Airways aircraft, configured in a comfortable two class configuration of 1-2 in business class and 2-2 in economy class, to showcase the plane with a demonstration flight for the WB management. Embraer, boldened by their sales success with Kenya Airways, is pushing hard to place their aircraft in the region and is reportedly working overtime to set up an East African maintenance base, probably with Kenya Airways at Embakasi, where heavy maintenance and the conventional B and C checks can be carried out. That would give Brazilian manufacturer Embraer a distinct competitive edge over their Canadian rivals in a market where the possible entry of a Lonrho / Stelios alliance could seriously rock the market and spur a flurry of purchases or leases for state of the art, fuel efficient and easy to maintain aircraft. Here is possibly the biggest chance to bag a big order and unlike in Europe, where EasyJet used larger single aisle jets on start up, here in Africa they might well opt for a smaller regional jet with an extended range, if they go flat out as can be expected when Sir Stelios is involved.
Private Kenyan carrier Jetlink has shifted from their former DC9 and Fokker 28 aircraft largely to Bombardier CRJ 200 models and is not likely to change manufacturers, and according to findings are rather in the market for more of those birds available on the open market and while not brand new at least of a younger age.
Across in Tanzania, should indeed their government put their money where their mouth has been for long, and recapitalize Air Tanzania to boost them from a single Bombardier Q300 to a real airline with a fleet of new aircraft, Embraer too as already knocked on their doors. Indications there however are that ATCL will go with Bombardier and acquire, money being available and permitting of course, CRJ200 aircraft to start with as they expand their fleet.
Inspite of economic worries, caused by the Euro zone crisis, the outlook for Africa appears bright with a large range of major infrastructure projects in the pipeline in the wider Eastern African region, and the discovery of oil and gas in Uganda, and the prospecting across the entire region for more such finds, will undoubtedly make the aviation sector a key element in the development and exploitation of such resources. Exciting times for sure, so watch this space as decision time is coming up at the top floor of RwandAir but also in the head offices of other airlines in the region.