There have been an influx of African airlines going into the West African routes recently. In this piece, TONY OKEY writes on the exploits of the carriers.
Sometimes, flying into an African country, from Europe or USA can be easier than flying across the West Coast in the African continent. This is because there are many established route networks from Europe and America operated by big players like British Airways,, Emirates, Delta Airline, Ethiopia Airways, Lufthansa and others.
So depending on where one is coming from, trips within West Africa can attract an expensive air ticket while Europe is the most convenient for departures in terms of proximity and cost.
Within the continent, there is every tendency for travelers coming from any point to find it difficult to get a direct flight or a reasonably priced one.
Over the years, Africans have been finding it very difficult getting around the West Coast, both at the regional and domestic levels. Within the region, airlines such as Air Cote d’Ivoire, Asky, Air Senegal and Air Burkina offer intercity flights while Air Ivoire in Cote d’Ivoire and Starbow in Ghana provided flights between cities within those countries. Although, there are direct flights from Europe into every West African capital, very few airlines fly into Bissau (Guinea-Bissau), Freetown (Sierra Leone), Monrovia (Liberia) and São Tomé & Príncipe.
To this end, most of the best connections between Europe and sub-Saharan West Africa are via Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc. It is also relatively easy to fly into West Africa from North Africa and the Middle East, with a handful of airlines offering services from elsewhere in Africa. Travelers coming from Australia, Canada or the USA, usually need to connect to a flight from Europe, the Middle East or South Africa.
The desire of most African airline operators to close the gap that existed with regards to connecting the African cities and also to claim a good share of the large untapped market gave rise to the entrance of the carriers into the West Coast routes.
First is the Nigerian based Medview Airline which ventured into Abidjan, Conakry and Dakar with an inaugural flight last year October. With the three new cities, the airline now has six destinations on the West Coast as Accra, Monrovia and Freetown are already on its network.
Servicing the route with with the airline’s new generation aircraft -B737-700, the flights to that route have been scheduled to be three times a week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday with early departures from Lagos.
Managing Director and CEO of Medview Airline, Alhaji Muneer Bankole said the West Coast expansion programme is informed by research and planning.
Bankole, however, assured that in the very near future, they will be operating to Johannesburg, South Africa; Lisbon, Portugal; Libreville, Gabon and Houston in the US.
Shortly after Medview Airline commenced the West Coast routes, another Nigeria based airline, Air Peace boosted its regional operations with the introduction of night flights out of Lagos, Accra, Banjul and Dakar.
Commenting on the initiative, Corporate Communications Manager, Chris Iwarah quoted the Chief Operating Officer, Oluwatoyin Olajide as saying the new flights were part of the airline’s strategy to make air travel on the West Coast of Africa seamless and more beneficial.
Olajide described that night flights, which commenced from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos recently as a relief for business and leisure travellers on the West Coast looking to utilise their trips to transact their business unrushed.
“We keep reviewing our regional operations in line with our promise to provide seamless, on-time and comfortable flight services. Whatever the travel needs of our esteemed guests, we want to be able to provide a service that fits their plans. In addition to Lagos, Accra, Banjul and Dakar, Air Peace also recently launched Lagos and Accra to Monrovia In, and , Liberia and from Abuja to Accra.
Commenting, Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema said the carrier is championing seamless air connectivity in Africa to ensure the economic growth of the continent and ease the travel challenges of the people.
Onyema insisted that the carrier had continued to prove its mettle in the project to link African nations and connect them with the rest of the world through flights to Accra, Freetown, Banjul, Dakar and Monrovia. Addition of Monrovia to Air Peace’s route network, he assured, would consolidate the airline’s strategy to unlock economies in Africa through air connectivity.
Onyema however, disclosed a lot of challenges that airlines face on that route, pointing out that since they stated, the airline has lost more than N6 billion on its West Coast route over what he described as aeropolitics.
The airline operator therefore, called on government to support Nigerian airlines by helping them play the international aero politics, stating that domestic airlines are seriously suffering from lack of such support.
Onyema emphasised that it was because of lack of government support the airline lost over a billion to charges flying the West Coast routes
The operator lamented that, if government was playing the aeropolitics on behalf of the indigenous carriers, it would reduce the way smaller countries try to take advantage of Nigerian airlines.
To also provide a direct entry points into West Africa from Southern African State of Namibia, Air Namibia recently launched its Windhoek – Lagos – Accra route.
The new service operates four times a week on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from Windhoek, providing links to West Africa via Windhoek to and from Johannesburg, Capetown, Luanda, Harare, Lusaka and Vic Falls, Gaborone Walvis Bay, Durban and others.
The operation transports passengers and cargo on the Lagos-Accra-Lagos leg, utilising the fifth freedom traffic rights granted by the Ghanaian and Nigeria governments, as contained in the existing Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA).
Similarly, Overland Airways one of Nigeria’s leading scheduled and charter airlines, few weeks ago inaugurated its Lagos-Cotonou-Niamey flights.
According to the airline, Overland Airways’ Lagos-Cotonou-Niamey flights will offer opportunities for travellers in Niger Republic to reach Nigeria and Benin Republic for business and pleasure.
In addition, passengers may connect regional and long-haul flights from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and Cotonou Airport to other parts of Africa, Europe, the Americas, Middle East and Asia.
Aanu Benson, Chief Operating Officer of Overland Airways, says the Lagos-Cotonou-Niamey flights will connect the Sahel region to the dense business and tourism opportunities in Cotonou and Lagos both in coastal West Africa, thereby stimulating trade and commercial activities in Benin Republic, Niger Republic and Nigeria.
She said “We must bring to life the whole essence and meaning of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the region.Overland Airways’ Lagos-Cotonou-Niamey flights promise passengers top quality services across its network.”
“Essentially, the Lagos-Cotonou-Niamey flights will connect traders, business people and holiday-makers to the rich farming and livestock industry, especially the Wadata Handicraft Village that presents an assortment of leather products, and milk production in Niger Republic. The country has huge mineral resources that present business opportunities, and is home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other historical monuments, as well as fascinating traditional celebrations that attract international guests”, Benson added. .
As part of efforts to explore the west coast region, leading carrier in Togo and another Nigerian carrier recently entered into a partnership agreement to cut a sizeable market share from the route Both airlines have successfully concluded the initial partnership arrangement which involves the aircraft leasing aspect, whereby Asky provided Dana with aircraft.”
Asky Airlines is a passenger airline founded on the initiative of West African governments, and has its head office in Lomé, Togo. It operates across several West and Central African countries, operating out of its hub at Lomé-Tokoin Airport.
With Ethiopian Airline as a technical partner, Asky which maintains over 23 destinations services Conakry to Bamako, Monrovia to Accra, Lagos to Yaounde, Abidjan to Dakar, Accra to Abidjan and Accra to Lagos.
With the airline partnership with Dana, experts have opined that the collaboration would expand their scope of operations and thereby, boost their revenue generation drive.
Speaking shortly before the Boeing 737-7000 provided by Asky touched down at Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) recently, Chief Operating Officer for Dana Air, Obi Mbanuzuo said the deal with Asky gives Dana Air the opportunity to fly early flights to Abuja on an Asky aircraft with Dana call sign, Dana in-flight services and catering. Mbanuzor added that the agreement also avails Dana the opportunity to have an aircraft on the 7am schedule and the deal further acts as a buffer for the airline as two of its McDonnell Douglas (MD83) are currently undergoing C-Check in France with one scheduled back at the end of the month.
The COO said that when Dana Air announced in February that they are entering partnership with Asky, it involves so many things and the partnership people are already seeing is the fruition.
On its own part, Africa World Airlines Limited (AWA) is not left out in the scramble to have a strong grip on the West Coast Routes network.
AWA which is a Ghanaian airline company with its head office in Accra and its main hub at Kotoka International Airport in Accra is also making in roads in the West Coast.
Established many year ago and with six aircraft in its fleet, the airline also has a fair share of the West Coast route network.