Airways in Africa, and the story of democracy: Kenya and South African carriers bleed, whereas Ethiopian flies excessive

download (4)KENYA Airways (KQ) final week introduced a loss of $257 million (Ksh25.7 billion), the largest ever within the nation’s company historical past.

It’s a stunning tumble for Kenya’s nationwide provider; though that is the third yr the corporate is operating a loss, the magnitude of KQ’s gap – this yr’s loss is 661% larger than final yr’s – was a lot deeper than anticipated.

It appeared like all elements on the planet appeared to conspire completely to batter KQ’s fortunes – firm CEO Mbuvi Ngunze blamed the losses on competitors from Center East airways, western journey advisories towards Kenya, runway closures, Ebola in West Africa, terrorism, excessive working prices, and troubled relations with crew.

However there have additionally been credible studies of shady procurement and plane leasing scams inside the firm which have been haemorrhaging money.

In line with KQ’s consolidated earnings assertion, though turnover elevated by four% previously yr, it simply wasn’t sufficient to maintain up with prices – working losses have been 500% greater than final yr, web finance prices almost 3 times greater, and finally, loss after tax was 661% greater than within the yr earlier than when the corporate posted a web lack of$33 million (Ksh3.3billion).

KQ shouldn’t be alone

Nonetheless, KQ can discover small consolation that one other one in every of Africa’s huge carriers has been within the pink for years now, too – South African Airways (SAA) posted a web lack of $200 million (R2.5 billion) previously monetary yr, up from $91 million (R1.1 billion) in 2013.

And in SAA’s case, the sustained foreign money decline of the rand towards the US greenback has worn out any benefit of decrease oil costs within the world markets.

Within the firm’s most up-to-date annual report, regardless of the three% lower within the common value of Brent crude oil within the monetary yr 2013-14, the overall gas prices really elevated 16% from the earlier yr on account of the weaker rand.

Since 2011, the true rand value of gas to SAA has elevated 77%, and the corporate additionally suffered a $15 million (R200million) loss from gas hedging after oil costs went within the route the corporate had not anticipated – down.

In the meantime, one other huge flier in African skies, Ethiopian Airways, is posting wholesome earnings within the area of $96 million and might now correctly declare to be the king of East Africa’s skies, at the very least.

About 5 years in the past, each Ethiopian Airways and Kenya Airways launched into bold, once-in-a-generation growth methods that may see them poised to say dominance over the area’s airspace. Each plans concerned changing older plane with extra fuel-efficient planes, principally the Boeing 787-Eight Dreamliner.

The Dreamliner’s light-weight carbon-composite wings and fuselage makes it 20% extra fuel-efficientthan the Boeing 767, the chief business workhorse. In a world the place gas sometimes accounts for round 30% of an airline’s complete prices, such effectivity is extraordinarily engaging. Ethiopian ordered ten planes (and was the first in Africa to obtain a 787), whereas KQ ordered 9.

However that’s the place the fortunes of the 2 corporations started to diverge.

By 2013, Kenya had acquired six 787-Eight Dreamliners, however shopping for the planes outright (versus leasing them), in addition to excessive wage prices and thorny industrial relations with its crew and staff, had put extreme a crunch on money movement.

Each airways have jostled for dominance within the African airspace, however Ethiopian has been extra aggressive in pursuing key development markets resembling Asia and South America, which permits it to profit from a extra balanced route community in comparison with KQ, whose core operations are extra concentrated in Africa.

In complete, Ethiopian flies to 78 worldwide locations, in comparison with KQ’s 59; Ethiopian earned 37% of its income from Asia and the Center East in FY2012, in comparison with Kenya Airways that earned simply 20% of its income from that area in FY2013. Ethiopian’s attain is aided in no small half by having 13 787 Dreamliners as a part of its fleet, in comparison with KQ’s six.

Because the 787 has an enormous 14,200km vary—roughly equal to a 20-hour continuous flight—Ethiopian can function extra direct flights from its hub at Addis Ababa to virtually any metropolis on the planet.

Beautiful African “super airline” concept

In 2012, delegates attending an aviation convention in Johannesburg have been surprised when Titus Naikuni, then chief govt of Kenya Airways, steered a three-way merger between KQ, Ethiopian Airways and SAA, this text in The Economist studies.

Naikuni pitched the thought of an African “super-airline” as the one technique to survive competitors from Center Jap carriers like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airways, that have been “stealing” African passengers with cheaper fares, larger and higher planes.

However that’s almost definitely to stay a dream. Other than the truth that it might be logistically tough to implement – Ethiopian and South African belong to Star Alliance, an air alliance that rivals Kenya Airways’ SkyTeam – African governments are notoriously, generally illogically, protecting of their nationwide carriers, shielding them from competitors and sometimes endlessly throwing good cash after dangerous.

Within the 60s and 70s, when Africa was nonetheless basking in that heat, post-independence glow, a nationwide airline was one of many three seen symbols that encapsulated sovereignty and self-determination: together with a nationwide flag and nationwide anthem (and, some would come with, a nationwide beer).

A nationwide airline is a very grand gesture that asserts a rustic’s standing on the desk, because it offers it clear visibility on the worldwide area.

However many have been simply not in a position to compete. In line with the African Growth Financial institution, 17 international locations in sub-Saharan Africa proceed to function weak state-owned carriers in very small, protected markets, that solely survive because of substantial authorities subsidies and sometimes characterize a substantial drain on public funds.

An extra 25 international locations have scrapped their flag carriers in favour of personal operators – together with Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Malawi.

A airplane of the now defunct Cameroon Airways lands at OR Tambo Worldwide Airport in Johannesburg in 1999. (Picture/Flickr/ Bob Adams).

The massive three in sub-Sahara Africa which have survived – Ethiopian Airways, South African Airways and Kenya Airways – have fallen on very totally different fortunes. As SAA and KQ are operating into deep losses, Ethiopian appears to be rising from power to power.

The obvious distinction between these international locations is that South Africa and Kenya are democracies (flawed ones, however nonetheless), whereas Ethiopia is a quasi-authoritarian regime that has little tolerance for freewheeling politics or economics, however is pursuing an aggressively state-led development mannequin.

Maybe there’s something distinctive within the airline enterprise that makes it appropriate for a “clever” hybrid democratic-authoritarian regime (emphasis on “clever”) to search out success. First, there’s most likely no different enterprise growing nation can run that’s so embedded within the world financial system, and that’s so uncovered to exogenous threat.

Wants a agency hand

KQ CEO Ngunze has pointed the finger on a clutch of exterior elements, together with terrorism, a droop within the European financial system, the Ebola outbreak, journey advisories towards Kenya and oil value volatility as contributing to the corporate’s losses in 2014.

However it’s such inherent vulnerability that requires strict management to run effectively, at the very least within the African context the place establishments and company governance is commonly weak.

Living proof – by 2013, KQ’s wage invoice had greater than doubled to $161 million in seven years, and employees numbers have been at four,000. In line with the Centre for Aviation, the typical annual wage on the airline was $32,333, about double what Ethiopian was paying its 6,300 workforce.

Whereas Ethiopian managed to steer its workforce to simply accept a pay minimize in 2012, Kenya Airways fought the unions within the courts over the dismissal of 447 staff in 2012 as a part of value discount measures; the case took two years to conclude, although it was ultimately dominated in KQ’s favour.

However the different factor is obvious visibility that an airline offers a rustic, and autocratic and hybrid international locations are at all times eager to show to the world that their mannequin works. It implies that the political foreign money – each regionally, and internationally – you may acquire in operating a profitable airline is miles forward of the rest you would possibly put your hand to.

This would possibly partly clarify why Ethiopian Airways has managed its nationwide provider so fastidiously, when there was a time the demise of yet one more African airline got here as commonly as Christmas.

Rwanda is one other hybrid regime, that noticed the political and financial mileage nationwide provider would give it.

Final week, on the launch of the Rwanda-Kenya Enterprise Discussion board held on the Kigali Serena Resort, President Paul Kagame revealed how he “laboured to explain to economists the benefits of direct government investment in Serena Hotel and RwandAir”, New Occasions studies.

A view of Mount Kilimanjaro from the window a RwandAir jet because it flies over Tanzania. (Picture/Flickr/Adam Jones).

Because the nation posted roaring financial development figures previously decade, a resort room scarcity started to chew as buyers and expatriates trooped into Africa’s latest success story.

Worldwide consultants from the IMF wished personal enterprise to fill the hole, however the response was lukewarm.

Kigali takes issues in personal palms

So Kagame determined that the federal government would take issues into its personal palms and accomplish that itself, towards the advise of the IMF consultants who sometimes don’t like authorities being so overtly concerned in a industrial enterprise; they predicted such a enterprise can be foolhardy at finest.

Kagame says his intention was to “break the hard ground” and show a proof of idea via Serena Resort and RwandAir, and so stimulate personal funding and spill over results into the broader financial system.

Inside 5 years of government-aided operations, RwandAir has near 20 locations in at the very least 12 international locations; this has boosted tourism and widened market alternatives for the personal sector. Although it isn’t worthwhile, it isn’t bleeding at alarming charges – and Rwanda has a good nationwide airline the place all its neighbours have lengthy buried theirs.

Certainly, Kagame mentioned; “If you compare the so-called ‘loss’ and how much money local businesses have made, the benefits are significant, and I am yet to be proven wrong.”

The resort and the airline will “eventually be handed over to a suitable private investor”, the New Occasionsstudies.

However when you think about all of the issues that might go unsuitable within the airline enterprise, it’s not so shocking that tightly managed, exactly choreographed regimes would discover success the place freer, extra democratic ones haven’t. For starters, in South Africa and Kenya, officers who run down airways can, if they’re arrested, can anticipate to win their circumstances and get off scot free.

In Ethiopia and different international locations with a excessive “developmental” premium, for those who “ate” the nationwide airline, a courtroom is unlikely to provide you a straightforward go.

Mail and Guardian Africa

Aline Niyonkuru

1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    bastcilkdoptb February 17, 2016

    I do love the manner in which you have framed this concern plus it really does provide us a lot of fodder for thought. However, coming from what precisely I have observed, I just simply hope as other responses stack on that people today remain on point and don’t embark upon a soap box regarding some other news of the day. Anyway, thank you for this fantastic piece and even though I can not really go along with this in totality, I respect your point of view.


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