South America company leads plane makers’ flights to Africa

 The Kenya Airways’s new E-jet manufactured by Embraer on November 22, 2012, at the KQ headquarters in Embakasi, Nairobi. Photo/Salaton Njau
The Kenya Airways’s new E-jet manufactured by Embraer on November 22, 2012, at the KQ headquarters in Embakasi, Nairobi. Photo/Salaton Njau 

Every time Brazilian manufacturer Embraer delivers a group of 100 aircraft it makes a hullabaloo about it and throws a party.

In November, the party was held at Kenya Airways (KQ) hanger in Nairobi, as the plane manufacturer paid tribute to one of its most important customers by delivering the 900th aircraft to it.

Embraer has been making major in-roads in the region as other narrow body, single isle, plane manufacturers including Bombardier also eyeing the growing domestic and regional travel in the continent.

“We see Africa as a huge potential for business going forward. And we want to be part of the development of Africa’s aviation, especially intra-Africa air traffic,” said Embraer’s commercial aviation president and chief executive Paulo Cesar Silva, during the celebrations.

“We clearly see our products as a good fit for flying in Africa, where majority of the routes — about 70 per cent — are more suitable for aircraft of up to 100 seats.”

Kenya Airways was the first airline in Africa to fly the E-series jets and is Embraers biggest client in the region and has remained faithful.

By the end of this financial year, ending March this year, the airline will have 16 Embraers in its fleet a number it’s looking to grow to 33 in the next 10 years, according to its 10-year strategy dubbed Project Mawingu.

It’s for this reason that the 900th aircraft was dedicated to the airline.

“It’s remarkable for an aircraft manufacturer to deliver a lot of aircraft. So every time we deliver a group of 100 we pay a tribute to one of our most important customers. So this one was dedicated to KQ as they are one of our important customers,” said Mr Cesar Silvar.

He said the firm identified Africa as a key market for its future growth and started implementing a regional strategy about six years ago.

As of November the it had 80 commercial jets — 50 E jets and 30 ERJ’s, which are smaller jets with 37 to 50 seats — operating in the region. Ethiopian Airways, LAM Mozambique and Egypt Air Express are some of the manufacturer’s clients in the region.

To further reinforce its commitment to the region Embraer, in partnership with KQ, announced it would open a service centre, in the next few months, expected to serve the growing client base in the region and help it close new deals.

The manufacturer is also posting more of its staff to Africa, investing in warehouses for spare parts and dedicating more employees to service its African clients.

As Embraer continues its growth in Africa Canadian manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace is also angling for a piece of the regional market with its narrow bodies.

In May last year one of its new jets, the Q400, was on tour in potential markets in Africa. The third largest aircraft manufacturer, after Airbus and Boeing, has its eyes on the region and has proved popular with some of the regional carriers including RwandAir which has a fleet of three and LAM Mozambique with two.

Other clients include Bluebird in Kenya and Egyptair. Grounded Jetlink Express was also one of its main clients in East Africa. The airline is currently talking to investors to get back in business.

Ethiopian Airlines already operates eight Bombardier aircraft mainly for regional and domestic travel with five more on order to be delivered this year.

Aircraft manufacturers have been strengthening their presence in the region as African airlines, especially Kenya Airways, South African Airways, Ethiopian Airways, RwandAir and Air Uganda, expand.

Though a smaller market, the order book from African airlines is expected to grow in the next decade, according to a market outlook by Boeing, for 2011 to 2030.

The outlook shows at least 800 deliveries are expected during this period in Africa.