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Starbow Airlines Ghana based domestic airline which began operations in 2011. The privately owned airline operates narrowbody aircraft and plans to launch international services in the future from its Kotoka International Airport base.
Location of Starbow Airlines main hub (Accra Kotoka Airport)
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fastjet has suffered a baptism of fire since entering the African market through the acquisition of the Fly540-branded aviation business of British conglomerate Lonrho and a 49% stake in Kenya’s Five Forty Aviation in Jul-2012.
The carrier holds ambitions to establish the first pan-African LCC airline by creating a series of fastjet branded airlines throughout the continent under a common sales and service platform. But a series of setbacks including a bitter legal dispute over the ownership of the Fly540 Kenya interest, unexpected delays in gaining rights to operated international services from its Tanzania home base, attempts to enter the South African market and underperforming Fly540 subsidiaries in Ghana and Angola have all conspired in fastjet posting a USD56 million loss for the 18 months to 31-Dec-2012.
Nevertheless, the company remains confident it will succeed. fastjet executive chairman David Lenigas stated: “The next few months will represent a greater transformation for the Company as we endeavour to further implement and grow the fastjet business model. The board is confident it has the right strategy and team in place to build a successful and profitable future for our shareholders”.
Africa’s potentially rich aviation pickings are attracting a new breed of start-ups. Some, like Starbow and FastJet, have ambitions to develop pan-African networks through franchise models. Others, including Africa World Airlines and Korongo Airlines, are focused on their domestic markets and regional services to neighbouring states. Yet a third grouping, led by ECAir, have established inter-continental operations.
While several of the start-ups are backed by their respective governments, it is notable that the strongest contenders are either largely or wholly privately owned and funded.
This new generation of carrier could provide the answer to Africa’s lack of domestic and intra-continental air services by increasing route options, lowering fares and making air travel affordable to the growing middle class.
Aviation enjoys a natural advantage as a means of connecting cities, where most of Africa suffers from poor or non-existent ground transport infrastructure.
China's HNA Group, of Hainan Airlines, invests in Africa World Airlines, third new start-up in Ghana
Chinese aviation is entering a new phase with the country's HNA Group, which includes Hainan Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines, making the first notable investment in a foreign passenger airline. HNA is taking a stake in Africa World Airlines, a start-up in Ghana that intends to launch low-cost operations this year, joining a crowded field in the West African nation that includes Starbow Airlines and Sir Stelios-backed FastJet, currently operating as Fly540, and incumbent Antrak Air.
Management at Africa World Airlines will be seconded from HNA carriers. HNA takes a long-term view towards investments, which with airlines can sometimes produce inefficiencies, as HNA seeks to build scale ahead of profitability. Africa World intends to start domestic operations modestly, with two Embraer ERJ145LRs, and then expand regionally, across Africa and beyond.
The plan is long term, and therefore consistent with HNA strategy, even if immediate short-term gains are not achieved.
Ghana’s Starbow is preparing to launch in Jul-2012 short-haul international services with its existing fleet of BAe 146s and is aiming to add medium-haul flights in 2013 after it takes delivery of A319s or Boeing 737-700s. The expansion will result in intensifying expansion in the fast-growing Ghanaian market as LCC Fly540 Ghana similarly looks to launch international routes from its Accra hub under the new brand Fastjet and under its new partnership with easyGroup, the latest project of easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou. Both Starbow and Fastjet have ambitions to establish a franchise of LCCs or hybrid carriers throughout Africa, an underserved region the two groups believe are poised for explosive intra-regional growth through the stimulation of low fares and introduction of high frequency reliable service.
Starbow launched services in Sep-2011 and currently operates three domestic routes connecting Ghana’s capital Accra with Kumasi, Takoradi and Tamale. Fly540 Ghana launched services in Nov-2011 and operates on the same three routes. While Starbow’s current fleet is significantly larger, with four BAe 146s compared to Fly540 Ghana’s single ATR 72, both carriers operate relatively similar schedules.
West Africa’s aviation industry is being led forward by Nigeria and Ghana. In Nigeria, the largest carrier, Arik Air, recently revealed itself as Boeing’s un-named B747-8 customer, while national carrier Air Nigeria is in the process of re-establishing its long-haul network. While the airlines are not without their problems, the market is growing and new entrants are appearing. In Ghana, the country is opening up to international carriers who are eager to increase their frequencies to the gold-producing country. Ghana itself is the site of one of Africa’s newest carrier, Starbow Airlines, and an impending base for pan-African LCC, Fly540.
Airbus predicted cities in these two countries, Accra and Lagos, will become “airline megacities” in the next 20 years, meaning they will handle 10,000 or more long-haul passengers a day. Accra and Lagos are two of just six** African cities tipped to become an “airline megacity”.