The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has denied Ethiopian Airlines (ET) a licence to operate scheduled passenger flights on the Johannesburg-Nairobi–Brussels route, saving Kenya Airways from an imminent battle for passengers in the African airspace.
KCAA admitted that the Ethiopian carrier had been denied a licence to operate passenger business from South Africa through the Kenyan airspace but declined to disclose what informed the decision.
Ethiopian Airlines wanted to fly B757 aircraft on the new route if allowed to operate out of Nairobi.
“KCAA denied Ethiopian Airline the licence it applied for. Only Ethiopia Airlines can apply to be informed of the reasons,” KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe said in a short text message.
Ethiopian Airlines’ recent growth has been fast, prompting the carrier to revise its ambitious 15-year strategy of 2010 and buy more planes to step up its rapid expansion.
It had planned to more than double its fleet to 120 and become Africa’s biggest airline by 2025 but rapid growth has seen it expand its fleet to 100 planes seven years ahead of target.
“We have expanded more than we planned. We had to revise the objective to make it 150 airplanes or more by 2025,” said the Airlines chief executive, Tewolde Gebremariam, in a past interview with the Reuters.
The State-owned carrier has also outpaced regional competitors such as Kenya Airways (KQ) and South African Airways to become Africa’s largest airline by revenue and profit, according to the International Air Transport Association.
KQ's expansion in the African airspace has, in contrast, faced headwinds in the recent past.
Three East African nations have refused to allow the Kenyan national carrier to use small Bombardier planes to operate scheduled flights in their capitals, causing a near diplomatic row.
Burundi, for instance, declined the Bombardier DHC8-Q400 aircraft on grounds that it has no business class seats while Djibouti and Southern Sudan flatly declined KQ’s applications. KQ prefers use of Bombardier planes on short-haul flights because they are less costly to operate.
Sebastian Mikosz, the KQ chief executive, on Thursday told Parliament that the rejections are “politically motivated” and are hampering the carrier’s regional expansion plans.
“So while we have an aircraft that is much cheaper to operate and is very decent, we find political decisions not allowing us to operate those aircraft,” said Mr Mikosz, adding that many UK and US carriers operate the plane for short-distance flights.
KCAA's decision to deny Ethiopian Airlines a licence to operate on the Johannesburg-Nairobi–Brussels route comes five years after it declined to let the carrier operate cargo planes on the Addis Ababa-Nairobi-Johannesburg route.
The aviation regulator said the decision was informed by ‘several factors following extensive consultation with its board committee.’ Ethiopian Airlines is also said to be working to establish Malawi and Zambia as southern Africa hubs and opening up new routes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville and Chad.
In 2013 the Ethiopian carrier acquired a minority stake in Malawi Airlines as part of the plan to make Blantyre a base for its southern Africa operations.
That kicked off a series of deals, including January’s agreement with the Zambian government to relaunch its national carrier that collapsed more than two decades ago.
The plan aims to give Ethiopian Airlines a “competitive advantage” against rivals such as those in the Gulf, even as it conquers the African airspace.