Increased business activity between Africa and Asia has helped Emirates, national carrier of the United Arab Emirates, become one of the largest airlines operating in Africa, according to a report in HowWeMadeItInAfrica.
The airline serves 27 destinations on the continent, and plans this week to add Bamako, the capital of Mali.
Emirates is benefiting from demand for business class seats for its African flights, a result of increased commercial activity particularly between Asia and Africa, said Hugh Frach, senior vice president of commercial operations for Europe, Africa and the Americas.
Emirates plans to add 10 African destinations in 10 years, said Tim Clark, president of Emirates Airline, at the 2014 Africa Global Business Forum in Dubai, according to a report in AddisStandard.
There are more than 500,000 Africans living in Dubai and 800,000-plus Africans visited Dubai in 2013, Clark said.
Africa also accounts for about 10 percent of Emirates’ global passengers and revenue, Frach said. The airline transported more than 5 million passengers to and from Africa on 21,000 flights in the year ending March 31, 2015, HowWeMadeItInAfrica reports.
“Many of these African markets are underserved,” Frach said during a media roundtable in Dubai last week. “This is why we believe it is a very interesting market, and we see developing traffic flows between almost every African market and Asia in particular.”
Emirates has been building its presence in Africa since launching flights to Cairo in 1986, AddisStandard reports.
Protectionism by some African governments has limited Emirates’ growth in Africa, Frach said.
“We are operating within existing agreements,” he said. “There might be a situation or a market where we would like to do more because we see more demand. But for given reasons, because a traffic agreement is in place and it stipulates what is allowed, we do what we can.”
Emirates recently partnered with U.K.-based fastjet, a low-cost African airline group, allowing passengers of the Dubai carrier to buy tickets in East and Southern Africa.
There are several advantages for Emirates to have this kind of arrangement, according to Will Horton, an analyst with Centre for Aviation, in a report in TheNational.
“There is the opportunity to have a wide reach with one brand rather than have to sign and manage agreements with distinct carriers in each country,” Horton said. “There’s no need to look for a partner in Tanzania and another in Zimbabwe since fastjet has a base in both. As Fastjet grows with four more bases, the deal can be expanded. It has the potential to be very scaleable.”
Emirates also partnered in August 2014 with Nigeria’s Arik Air, opening up new routes throughout Western Africa, AFKInsider reported.
African national carriers are often subject to government bailouts and bankruptcy, HowWeMadeItInAfrica reports. For example, Zambian Airlines suspended service in 2009 citing rising costs. Nigeria Airways was shut down in 2003 after going into debt. South African Airways is in financial trouble, struggling to compete with low-cost carriers at home and larger international operators.
The extent to which African governments are willing to block competitors to protect their own airlines is astounding, said Ed Winter, CEO of fastjet, in a 2013 How we made it in Africa interview.
“If you go around all the (African) countries, there are loss-making state airlines, and the protectionism being exhibited by virtually all of these governments is doing nothing other than to reduce the level of air transport, kill competition and create a situation where they are going to continue subsidizing their own state airline,” Winter said.
For Emirates, airline protectionism isn’t limited to Africa. In Germany, Emirates is limited to landing at four airports.
And protectionism isn’t the only limiting factor for growth of foreign airlines in Africa, according to How we made it in Africa.
Due to inadequate airport infrastructure, many African airports can’t accommodate the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger liner. Emirates has 67 in its fleet.