My Account Menu

CAPA Login


Register to trial CAPA Membership!

Africa beckons for US carriers

20-Sep-2010

Africa is attracting US airlines again, as African cities become viable network additions. The US airlines' absence spans two decades and their return to the continent helps to make US carriers quite considerably more global. Not since the days of Pan American Airways have American carriers served as many African destinations, and the list will probably continue to grow.

Africa has ranked as low priority for US carriers

Looking back 25 years reveals just how much the industry has changed. First, current aircraft have relegated the “milk-runs” of the 1980s to quaint history. Pan Am’s two-stop run to Lagos is now an Atlanta non-stop. Delta’s Dakar service is operated with B757s, an aircraft never envisioned for such operations when it was designed.

Furthermore, daily service was non-existent and, except for South African Airways and Royal Air Maroc, none of the 1985 carriers still exists. The Europeans had a lock on Africa and the continent was served primarily on the basis of previous colonial ties. If you wished to go to Luanda, Portugal and TAP were at the ready.

Direct Service US to Africa in 1985

Airline

Routing

Operated on

PA

JFK ROB JNB

2,5

PA

JFK DKR ROB LOS NBO

3,6

SA

JFK SID JNB

2,4,5,7

WT

JFK LOS

3,6

RK

JFK DKR

6

RK

JFK DKR ABJ

5

TW

JFK CAI

1,3,6

TW

JFK ATH CAI

2,4,5,7

PK

JFK ORY FRA CAI

2,6

AT

JFK CMN

2,6

Some of the Europeans had secondary airlines like UTA and BCAL serving the thinner African routes, freeing British Airways and Air France to be busy in the prime markets.

1990: services reduce, handing connections to European airlines

Five years later, the available flights and carriers had further diminished, even though Lusaka had been added. South Africa was cut off with the demise of Pan Am and the withdrawal of South African. Getting to Africa was a challenge and, again, the European airlines benefited. Even smaller carriers such as Swissair and Sabena had a substantial presence in Africa and, with seat scarcity, good returns could be made.

Direct Service US to Africa in 1990

Airline

Routing

Operated on

RK

JFK DKR ROB ABJ

5

RK

JFK DKR ABJ

3

TW

JFK CDG CAI

2,5,7

MS

JFK ORY CAI

5,7

WT

JFK LOS

3,6

QZ

JFK ROB LUN

1,5

AT

JFK CMN

2,6

Additionally, the African carriers that were operating had poor reputations for service and reliability, making the choice of a European routing an easy choice for most travellers.

2000: variety of service improves

By 2000, the list of operations was considerably lengthened. Also, by the beginning of the 21st century, carriers were operating from US cities other than New York. It was possible to fly from Los Angeles to Cairo on the same aircraft and passengers travelling from cities south of New York could choose Atlanta or Baltimore as points of embarkation.

Direct Service US to Africa in 2000

Airline

Routing

Operated on

ET

IAD EWR FCO ADD

9X WK

GH

JFK ACC

4,6

GH

JFK ROB ACC

2

GH

BWI ROB ACC

3,7

RK

JFK DKR

3,4,6,7

TW

JFK CAI

1,2,3,4,5,7

MS

LAX JFK CAI

4,6

MS

JFK CAI

5,7

AT

JFK YUL CMN

7

AT

YUL JFK CMN

2,4,6

SA

JFK SID JNB

2

SA

JFK JNB

X2

SA

ATL CPT JNB

1,3,7

SA

ATL JNB CPT

2,4,6

While TWA continued its Cairo flight, the airline was in deep distress and both its network and its future were in flux. There were more new African players as Ethiopian and Ghana Airways tossed their offer into the trans-Atlantic pot. In addition to its new Atlanta service, SAA was back at JFK as well.

Alliances emerge and change routing alternatives

The other change now under way was the foundation of alliances. None of the carriers that flew between the US and Africa was in an alliance at that time, but the European carriers had begun to choose affiliations that strengthened intra-alliance services but diminished the desirability of combining, for example, BA and Lufthansa on the same journey.

The US carriers, if they participated at all in African itineraries, were involved only as trans-Atlantic or domestic partners. And for most of the early 2000s they had little interest in the African continent.

2010: a greater emphasis returns

In 2010, the picture is very different. The African carrier presence has very significantly diminished except for the more durable ones, Ethiopian, Egyptair and Royal Air Maroc. Not only are they still present, but they operate on a daily basis. The only African newcomer is Nigeria’s Arik and the longevity of Nigerian airlines has a spotty history.

Direct Service US to Africa in 2010

Airline

Routing

Operates on

DL

JFK CAI

Daily

DL

JFK ABV

1,3,5

DL

JFK ACC

1,3,4,5,7

DL

JFK DKR

2,4,6

DL

ATL ACC ABV

2,4

DL

ATL ACC ROB

6

DL

ATL LOS

X5

DL

ATL JNB

Daily

UA

IAD ACC

Daily

ET

IAD FCO ADD

Daily

SA

IAD DKR JNB

Daily

SA

JFK JNB

Daily

MS

JFK CAI

Daily

AT

JFK CMN

Daily

W3

JFK LOS

1,3,5

Both South African and Egyptair are Star Alliance members and interface with their partners on these and other routes. Ethiopian is in discussion with Star, which would provide a very solid presence in the market. United is the US Star carrier directly involved, moving into Africa with a daily flight to Accra from its Washington hub.

And alliances take on a greater role

Delta represents SkyTeam well, with its multiple services from JFK and Atlanta. While no other SkyTeam partners cross the Atlantic from Africa, Delta interfaces with Air France’s African presence and connects at a number of West African cities with its partner, Kenya Airways.

South African also transferred its second gateway from Delta’s Atlanta hub where Star has no feed, to the more alliance-friendly Dulles where United rules. While South African Airways remains in New York for origin and destination traffic, a larger aircraft, an A340-600, operates to IAD.

The necessity for a European connection has also been diminished by much more frequent, often daily, service. Unlike 1985, when twice weekly direct service made travel complex, daily service allows for travel patterns similar to those in other parts of the globe – the ability to go and return when you wish.

oneworld accesses Africa almost exclusively via BA and London, and connects onwards to the East at Johannesburg with Qantas.

Delta eyes Nairobi

Delta has made noises about expanding its African destinations, with Nairobi having been mentioned as a future option. If United has a good result with Accra, it may also be willing to try other destinations.

The pending arrival of the B787 and A350 will also improve the economics for thinner routes to existing or additional African cities, making new service more financially appealing.

China’s interest in Africa has spurred travel to the continent, and the Gulf carriers have not been shy in their expansion. Emirates operates the only long-haul service from Durban, RSA and, as the Gulf players are wont to do, has opened up a new way for the world and Durban to connect.

Africa has potential but difficult to serve

But Africa, for all its potential, is still a difficult place to serve. At a recent gathering, Brussels Airlines noted that despite Belgian aviation’s presence on the continent for more than half a century, the recent service to Kigali still required almost a year for preparation and upgrade of facilities and services. The continent has rudimentary ATC facilities in many places and political and social instability constantly make headlines.

And, as many operators over the years have found, traffic rights are bound up in complex and often costly negotiations with local officials.

Eventually, this will begin to change and US carriers will continue to pursue profitable operations as they appear. Look for an increasing variety of N-registered aircraft on African soil.


Want more analysis like this? CAPA Membership gives you access to all news and analysis on the site, along with access to many areas of our comprehensive databases and toolsets.
Find out more and take a free trial.