Shipping & Logistics

What new national carriers mean for Kenya Airways

Kenya Airways
A Kenya Airways plane at the JKIA in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

It is currently not possible for a single airline to serve the whole continent. That is what Abderahmane Berthe, Secretary General of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), believes.

But if Delta were an African Airline, it would be starved of passengers since Africa accounts for just 100 million passengers yearLY, according to International Air Transport Association (IATA). Delta serves nearly 200 million people every year taking customers to more than 300 destinations in over 50 countries.

According to Michael Porter’s five competitive forces that shape strategy, airline industry is the least profitable sector known to man. Mr Porter notes that the nature of rivalry in airlines is so intense that it largely relies on price, hence the introduction of other innuendoes like the cabin crew’s attractiveness.

Despite possessing just 100 million air passengers, almost every African country appears to be establishing their national carriers, but for what purpose if airline business is the least profitable?

Every airline has to come up with a strategy that will fly its colours high above the rest. This brings about the ever powerful brand loyalty concept which advances that a loyal consumer would consume a brand for a longer period of time despite availability of other options. In Africa, nationalisation of airlines is being propelled as the only solution to achieve brand loyalty. However, the intrigues behind this are even more eye catching.


In 2018, Ethiopian Airlines (ET) announced it bought a 45 percent stake to revive Zambia Airways, which went into liquidation in 1994. ET has also been in talks with other African governments including Ghana to re-launch their national carriers.

In 2017, Ethiopia was in negotiations to manage Nigeria’s biggest private airline Arik Air which failed, but the company has reportedly expressed interest in two other initiatives in Africa’s largest market. Ethiopian Airlines already operates Malawian Airlines through a deal signed in 2013, and partners with privately-owned ASKY Airlines through a hub in Lomé, Togo.

Privately held Guinea Airlines which is named after the formerly national carrier is now operating under a strategic partnership between Ethiopian Airlines, ASKY and Guinea Airlines. The Ethiopian carrier commenced services from Conakry to destinations in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, operated by ASKY.

The strategic relationship does not end with Guinea alone, it also extends to Gold Coast. In May this year, the Ghanaian Government finalised a strategic partnership agreement with Ethiopian Airlines over the formation of a new national carrier following a memorandum of understanding that was signed between the two sides in December 2018.

In October 2018, Tchadia Airlines became a new regional operator based at N’Djamena Airport in Chad. This Company is backed by ET. 51 percent of Tchadia is controlled by the Chad Government, while the remaining 49 percent is owned by the Star Alliance to which ET is a member.

From a brand loyalty perspective, ET is applying a semi horizontal business strategy of forging alliances, partnerships and acquisitions all while appearing to stay away from the brand identity of its associates. The idea is to take as much of the 100 million within Africa every year, a creative destruction strategy.

The effect of this is that our national carrier, Kenya Airways, loses its market share because local travellers will shift to their respective national carriers most of whom are in partnership deals with Ethiopian Airlines. Other regional countries have put in efforts to muddy the waters of the industry.

Uganda Airlines has set out to eat into the Kenya Airways market share in the region flying the same routes as KQ. Mozambique is a unique case because it comes after the ban on their airline by the European Union was lifted. With its expansion, another chunk of KQ’s market share taken away.

The government of Kenya should fast-track nationalisation of the airline and leverage its extensive bilateral networks to protect market share.

Mr Ngamate is a former business lecturer at the International College of the Cayman Islands. Email: [email protected]