Why flying in Africa is getting harder even as airlines expand fleets

13 February 2012

The East African | February 11, 2012

...Most African airports are expected to see an increase in passenger traffic as the continent opens up to the world for business.

The need to expand the airports is highlighted by the aggressive growth plans most carriers have: To increase their fleet and almost double their passenger numbers in 10 years’ time.

Kenya Airways, the national carrier, is this year expected to raise Ksh23 billion ($270 million) through a rights issues that will help it acquire 21 new airplanes in an expansion plan aimed at deepening its routes in Africa and Asia. The 10-year strategic plan, which runs until 2021 should see the airline deepen its presence in China and India with six and five new destinations respectively planned.

Titus Naikuni, CEO, Kenya Airways said an expanded airport would afford the airline more parking space adding that because JKIA is over stretched, security was also at stake. “We are now forced to take additional measures in order to avoid any potential threats,” he said.

KQ though has been faced with increased competition especially from Middle East carriers such as Etihad Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Royal Air Jordanian, which are opening up more routes on the continent where the Kenyan carrier draws nearly half of $1 billion revenues.

Part of the problem about Nairobi as a hub is that JKIA handled about 5.5 million passengers in 2010, with the forecast being over 6 million passengers in 2011. The 2010 official figures are double the 2.5 million passengers the airport was originally meant to handle.

But the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), the parastatal charged with the responsibility of overseeing airports in the country says plans are underway to expand JKIA. By 2013, it is hoped Unit 4 will be constructed helping expand the capacity of the airport to 4.5 million passengers, which, however, is still below KQ’s requirements.

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