left corner left corner
China Daily Website

Airlines look to upgrade

Updated: 2014-02-28 10:20
By Li Lianxing in Nairobi ( China Daily Africa)

Testing times

Though African carriers are pushing ahead with expansion in China, they face several hurdles. The biggest challenge is finding suitable slots at airports. Most of the major airports in China are too crowded and hence unable to offer new slots to newcomers, says Mbuvi Ngunze, chief operating officer of Kenya Airways.

"We have realized that the real challenge is not about building more airports in China, although the existing ones are really busy, but more about how to solve the bottlenecks and make the slot allocation more efficient in Chinese airports," he says.

There are also no suitable mechanisms to connect domestic flights efficiently with international ones and simplify the overall processing procedures, experts say.

"We (African carriers) need to be careful about leveraging our regional hub status and do this in such a manner that it ensures adequate returns for Chinese investors," he says.

Chinese carriers, on the other hand, after making a strong start, seem to have slowed their pace in Africa. In December, a notice from the Civil Aviation Administration of China said that Hainan Airlines had submitted an application for expansion of operations in Africa. If the application is approved, it will mark the return of a major Chinese carrier to Africa after several years' absence.

HNA, China's fourth-largest aviation group and the parent company of Hainan Airlines, recently indicated that it had shifted its focus from Europe and North America to emerging markets like Africa.

Chen Feng, chairman of HNA Group, said recently that the company was focusing more on lesser-known routes, especially in Africa, and would make the necessary investment to grow the business in these areas.

In its application HNA said it sought permission to operate flights on the Beijing-Mumbai-Nairobi route. It used to have three routes to Africa - Beijing-Cairo, Beijing-Abu Dhabi-Khartoum and Beijing-Dubai-Luanda. The routes were stopped, many for security reasons.

"Interaction and communication between China and Africa is growing rapidly and it is important for a Chinese airline to be a part of the African market," says Liu Jichun, deputy manger of the marketing department at HNA.

"We expect the Beijing-Mumbai-Nairobi route to closely connect people in China, India and Kenya and also add to passenger flows. It will be a good experience for us, as it is a new destination."

HNA will add more routes in Africa when the conditions permit, he says, adding that research has shown that demand for air transport in Ghana and other parts of West Africa is high. The potential in rest of Africa is huge as the civil aviation industry is vastly underdeveloped, Liu says.

Together with the China-Africa Development Fund, Strategic African Securities and Ghana's Social Security and National Insurance Trust, HNA started its business in Africa with a $50 million fund last year. The airline is based at Kotoca International Airport in Accra and runs 34 flights a week on three domestic routes in Ghana.

According to a statement released by HNA Group last year, the carrier plans to connect several major West African cities, including Ouagadougou, Abidjan, Lagos and Abuja, but it has no plans to fly to China from the region.

According to industry sources, Chinese airlines are reluctant to expand in Africa because of the high operating costs and less profitability compared with international routes.

Kenya Airways' Ngunze says Chinese carriers are more focused on bolstering domestic connections and routes to Europe, Asia and America. "It is only a question of time, before they shift their focus to Africa."

New experiences

Most of the passengers traveling between China and Africa opt for Middle Eastern carriers, due to the better in-flight services and duty free shopping at transit airports, says Ma Zhaojie, who runs a travel agency in Nairobi.

"Apart from the duty-free shopping experiences, carriers such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar are highly competitive when it comes to pricing on tickets to Africa. There is very little difference in the price gap between Middle Eastern and African carriers," he says.

According to Emirates Airlines, China is one of the most popular destinations for travelers from Zambia and the market is steadily growing.

Husain Alsafi, Emirates' manager for Zambia said in a recent interview with Xinhua News Agency that "China has become the most popular destination for Emirates' since it started flights to Lusaka in February 2012. "Beijing and Shanghai are the most visited cities, followed by Hong Kong and Guangzhou."

According to industry experts, the growth of African aviation companies and outbound moves of Chinese carriers will create more opportunities for companies from both sides.

Saturation of local carriers is not yet a worry in Africa, says John Mirenge, chief executive officer of RwandAir, the Rwandan government-controlled airline.

"Demand is growing steadily in Africa, while the number of passengers has been more than doubled during the past few years. The current capacity and number of carriers cannot fully cater to the needs."

Passengers in Africa simply need more air travel options, he says.


 Airlines look to upgrade

Passengers check in at Guangzhou airport. Closer trade relations between China and Africa have led to more passenger flow between the two sides. Provided to China Daily

 Airlines look to upgrade

Elijah Chingosho of the African Airlines Association sees huge promise for the Africa-China market. Li Lianxing / China Daily

( China Daily Africa Weekly 02/28/2014 page6)

Previous Page 1 2 Next Page

  • Group a building block for Africa

    An unusually heavy downpour hit Durban for two days before the BRICS summit's debut on African soil, but interest for a better platform for emerging markets were still sparked at the summit.