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Kenya Airways, SAA eye common airline in new deal

kq plane

A Kenya Airways plane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Kenya Airways (KQ) has partnered with South African Airways (SAA) to improve services and keep the two carriers afloat.

The loss-making airlines signed a memorandum of co-operation on Tuesday as they seek to form a pan-African airline.

KQ and SAA executives have exuded confidence that the partnership would enhance mutual growth, improve their strategic positioning in aviation, and diversify revenue streams. This will boost passenger traffic, increase cargo volumes and general trade.

“The future of aviation and its long-term sustenance is hinged on co-operation. KQ and SAA collaboration will enhance customer benefits by availing a larger combined passenger and cargo network, fostering the exchange of expertise, innovation, best practice, and adopting home-grown organic solutions to technical and operational challenges,” said KQ Managing Director Allan Kilavuka.

The agreement comes a fortnight after African airlines agreed to pursue a consolidation model at a workshop hosted by African Airlines Association (AFRAA). They also decided to adopt an “Air Afrique” concept that would create equitable partnerships between airlines or across a group of investments, co-operation between two or more well-matched airlines, or forming a new common airline. 

In April, KQ signed an agreement with Congo Airways to lease two Embraer E190 jets to boost the Congolese carrier’s domestic operations and flight frequencies.

Both KQ and SAA have been loss-making for years. The South African carrier resumed operations this week after more than a year of inactivity. The airline ceased commercial flights over the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020 and grounded all its other flights in September last year due to financial strain

Mr Kilavuka said the KQ is pursuing partnerships as part of its recovery strategy.

SAA’s Interim CEO Thomas Kgokolo noted that the deal would enable the airlines to recover in the current and post-pandemic business and travel environment and better implement cost containment strategies.

“It will also enhance related Kenya and South Africa tourism circuits, which sectors account for significant portions of respective country growth domestic product, benefiting from at least two attractive hubs in Johannesburg, Nairobi and possibly Cape Town. 

“KQ and SAA, as iconic airline brands of Africa’s biggest and vibrant economies, in East Africa and Southern Africa respectively, are at the precipice of what could be Africa’s formidable pan-African airline,” stated Mr Kgokolo. 

The airline executives said the co-operation would help address the significant contraction witnessed in the air transport market in the wake of Covid-19, where the African air transport market is estimated to have contracted to 50 per cent of its 2019 capacity.