Air Mauritius Sees Fastest Growth In Years, Wants To Be An Asia-Africa Hub

Written by Dana Sanchez

A 9 percent increase in passenger traffic helped Air Mauritius turn a profit in the second quarter — its fastest growth in five years — despite growing competition in its major markets, the airline said Monday, according to The Africa Report.

Europe is the biggest source market for Mauritius tourism, but the country’s national carrier is focusing on Asia and Africa for opportunities.

Although visitor numbers from Europe continue to increase, Mauritius is geographically better positioned for Asia-Africa transit traffic than Europe-Africa traffic, the Australia-based Center For Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) reported in an analysis..

Europe accounts for 632,000 (55 percent) of total visitors so far in 2016. France is the biggest single source market and the U.K. is No. 4 after nearby Reunion Island.

Air Mauritius is a relatively small player in the continental Africa-Asia aviation market – a market dominated by Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and the Gulf airlines.

But because Mauritius is an island nation 2,000 kilometers (1,242 miles) off the southeast coast of Africa, almost everyone arrives by air.  The airline wants to be a hub between Africa and Asia.

Mauritius is mostly an inbound market with 1.152 million visitor arrivals in 2015 compared with 254,000 departures by Mauritian residents, CAPA reported. Of the 1.152 million visitors, 94 percent visited Mauritius as a vacation destination. There were about 40,000 arrivals by sea in 2015.

Air Mauritius began serving its fourth Chinese destination on July 12 with the addition of weekly flights to Guangzhou. The 7,741-kilometer route faces no competition, according to Airline Network News and Analysis. The national carrier of Mauritius already operates three weekly flights to Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu. It also serves Hong Kong twice a week.

Air Mauritius flies to 24 destinations in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Indian Ocean.

Fourteen foreign airlines serve Mauritius, including eight from Europe and five from Africa. Several other foreign airlines are looking at launching new services to Mauritius, CAPA reported.

Emirates is the largest of the foreign airlines in the Mauritius market and accounts for more than a 20 percent of international seat capacity. The arrival of AirAsia is the latest in a string of recent developments that have resulted in more competition for Air Mauritius in its home market.

The top six foreign airlines flying to Mauritius are ranked by seat capacity as follows:
1. Emirates Airline: 17,220 seats
2. Air Austral: 8,584 seats
3. South African Airways: 4,116 seats
4. Air France: 2,106 seats
5. British Airways: 1,518 seats
6. Turkish Airlines: 1,716 seats

Total passenger traffic in Mauritius has grown by nearly 20 percent since 2012, and Emirates has been one of the key drivers of that growth, along with expansion from European leisure airlines, according to CAPA.

Air Mauritius passenger traffic also grew about 15 percent over that period — most of it happening in 2015, with 2012 to 2014 relatively flat.

Air Mauritius saw 9.4 percent growth for the year ending March 31, 2016 to 1.5 million passengers — the first time the airline has been able to grow passenger numbers by more than 3 percent since the year ending March 2011.

Paris is Air Mauritius’ largest destination with daily flights. London Heathrow – its only other European destination – has four flights per week.

Although Air Mauritius has more capacity to Europe than to Asia Pacific, it has 12 Asia Pacific destinations compared with just two in Europe.

Air Mauritius is considering expansion in Europe with Amsterdam as a potential third European destination, but its focus is mostly on Asia and Africa expansion, CAPA reports.

Air Mauritius is a relatively small player in the continental Africa-Asia market – a market dominated by Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and the Gulf airlines. Air Mauritius accounted for less than 6 percent of total Africa-Asia bookings in the year ending Mar 2016, according to OAG Traffic Analyser data.

Emirates was the market leader with a 22 percent share, followed by Ethiopian with 16 percent and Qatar Airways with 11 percent.

Can Air Mauritius achieve its hub ambitions alone?

It needs investors and strategic partnerships, according to the CAPA analysis. Intensifying competition, economic downturns, and fleet limitations — Air Mauritius operates 13 aircraft, and that hasn’t changed in three years — are some of the challenges it faces.

The airline recognizes that its hub aspirations cannot be achieved alone, CAPA reported:

Ultimately Air Mauritius will need a significantly larger fleet to support the ambitious hub aspirations of its government shareholder. Foreign airlines will continue to help drive growth at Mauritius but a much bigger Air Mauritius is required if the country is to succeed at becoming a bridge between Asia and Africa.