Bright skies for African airlines.

Author:Thomas, Craig

African airlines shared the good fortune enjoyed by the industry as a whole last year and have been consolidating on their success. Craig Thomas details the changes taking place.

1997 was a good year for the airline industry in Africa, as indeed it was for airlines globally. Figures released by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) point to a 9% increase in scheduled international airline traffic during the year. Compared to 1996, average load factors increased to 69% for international traffic.

Africa, until recently plagued by recession, ageing fleets and intense competition from carriers abroad, saw expansion and modernisation of its fleets, with expanded route networks providing vital air services to many centres previously lacking direct connections.

The cessation of hostilities in the former Zaire, and the subsequent civil strife in the neighbouring Congo Republic resulted in the simultaneous suspension and re-introduction of services to Brazzaville and Kinshasa by foreign carriers within a period of weeks. Air France, Sabena, Swissair and Air Portugal recommended regular services between Kinshasa and Europe in the fourth quarter of 1997 but international air services into Brazzaville were suspended during the conflict. Air France, Ethiopian Airlines, Sabena and Swissair have, to date, all suspended services to the country. Congo's second city, Pointe Noire, suffered less infrastructural damage during the strife, and is now functioning as the country s prime international gateway via the harbour and international airport.

Air Afrique, Air Gabon and TAAG are currently providing services to neighbouring states in West Africa, with a weekly service to both Paris and Johannesburg being operated by Air Afrique. Despite instability in the Central African region, Sabena upgraded services to its West African destinations with the introduction of new Airbus A330s.

Stretching their wings

Expanded services include Air Afrique's new route to Equatorial Guinea, linking Malabo with Abidjan and Paris. The airline's weekly service to Jeddah from Niamey and Ndjamena has been extended to include Abu Dhabi. Ethiopian Airlines has reintroduced services from Addis Ababa to Luanda and Durban, and is to commence services to Lusaka in April.

The alliance between Kenya Airways and KLM has strengthened considerably -- KLM is to run a daily service between Amsterdam and Nairobi while Kenya Airways will double the number of flights it offers on the...

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