The announcement by Emirates that it would increase the baggage allowance for passengers on its African routes is perhaps the clearest indication that airline competition across the continent is heating up.
This month the airline said economy-class customers would get a new baggage allowance of two bags weighing up to 23 kilograms each. This would take the current weight allowance from 30kg to 46kg. Business class increases to two bags of 32kg each, 64kg in total.
First-class customers will also see a rise to 64kg. In addition, infants will be entitled one piece of luggage weighing up to 23kg.
“With more than 370 flights a week between Dubai and the 22 passenger destinations we serve in Africa, the continent is a very important region for Emirates,” says Orhan Abbas, the Emirates senior vice president of commercial operations in Africa.
“We believe the new allowance will further strengthen trade and tourism connectivity between Africa and our worldwide network, particularly the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific.”
Even though the collapse of commodity prices has devastated the income of many of the 54 states that Africa consists of, an emerging middle class has the income to fund a comfortable lifestyle. For them, flying is the quickest and safest way to travel.
“Infrastructure does not exist in many places across Africa and even if it did, it would still be unpassable during certain times of the year because of the weather,” says Hans Heerkens, the chairman of the Dutch Platform Unmanned Cargo Aircraft initiative. Seasonal storms turn much of equatorial Africa into a quagmire of mud at times, which means roads need extensive repairs on an annual basis. Over the long term, air travel and its attendant infrastructure would be cheaper to maintain, Mr Heerkens says.
A recent study by the legal firm Norton Rose Fulbright shows that only 230 airlines are present in African airspace, which is just 5.5 per cent of the world’s commercial passenger and freighter aircraft. At the same time, the average age of the African airlines’ combined fleet is the oldest of any world region – 17 years versus 13 years for the global average.
Many of the airlines that do exist are badly run, indebted national carriers. As governments run out of money, these are being shut down, the latest being Senegal Airways, which folded its wings this month.
In spite of these issues the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says African airlines are the fastest-growing in the world. February traffic was up by 12.7 per cent compared to same month in 2015. In the first two months of 2016, demand for African passenger connectivity was off to its strongest start in eight years, IATA says.
“It also aligns with a jump in exports from Africa. Capacity rose 13.4 per cent, and load factor slipped 0.4 percentage points to 63.7 per cent,” the agency adds.
No wonder Emirates has its eyes on the continent.