Demise of SAA & Air Namibia- scope for a new mini- hub – in Lusaka??

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  • sparkyflier
    Participant

    As many readers will be aware, South African Airways is no longer an active hub airline, indeed may well be totally finished (correct me if I am wrong), and Air Namibia is sadly the latest to bite the dust.

    Some may also be aware that a couple of years ago it was announced that Zambia Airways would be revived following an agreement with the national government and the continent’s biggest airline – Ethiopian Airlines (ET), with the latter providing ,management expertise, training and I guess even the aircraft.

    Zambia Airways collapsed in the early 90s having had a network stretching from New York to then Bombay, LHR, FRA, FCO and key African cities in eastern and southern Africa – using DC10s, 707s, 737s and ATRs.

    And ET is a huge airline now with a vast and very modern fleet. They are looking at supporting a number of airlines on the continent, but it seems the Zambia one is the most advanced.

    https://centreforaviation.com/news/ethiopian-airlines-well-placed-for-partnerships-ceo-outlines-progress-in-five-countries-1052236

    Now since this announcement not an awful lot has happened apart from “certification” some training and Zambia further increasing its huge debt (!). However according to an announcement recently by the CEO of ET on CAPA plans are in the “final stage” and mentioned how Lusaka is in a good location for such a hub, whereas Joburg was in fact not, – good for SA but not for the countries in southern Africa. Lusaka also has a brand new Chinese-built airport.

    BA used to fly to Lusaka roughly 3 times weekly, lastly using old 767s – which I am told drove demand up for the other airlines – KQ, ET, EK etc and now Rwandair.

    But what do you think of these plans and where do you think the hub could serve – to start with and to develop into.

    Some will say this idea has no “wings” but at the same time there is a void with lack of connectivity and this is holding some countries back – which could be essential post Covid (hopefully soon) and support business and tourism.

    It is worth remembering that ET is a Star Alliance member – and the new airline could be associated with that.

    I imagine initial aircraft would be “borrowed” from ET so maybe Dash Q400 for domestic and some regional, 737-700 regional and 788 for long haul, but wonder if the E190 or A220 would be a more efficient aircraft for the regional, and second hand A330 for long haul.

    Routes wise (remember ET has clout and money) – LHR, FRA and CDG 3-4 times a week, connecting on to the main cities and capitals of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, SA (Joburg, Durban and CT), and even routes to Lubumbashi, Dar, Nairobi and Entebbe etc. Over time maybe routes to Mumbai and China could be options. Of course if the mini-hub becomes viable then Star Alliance members may take an interest in feeding Lusaka. And to stimulate demand start locally and regionally, and set up operational competence.

    Key tourist attractions in Zambia include game parks (mainly around Mfuwe) and Victoria Falls , with the airport serving that being Livingstone. Flights from the 3 main cities in SA into Livingstone could well be viable.

    But what do you think? Best options, routes, aircraft etc?

    Given Zambia’s economy size, population, location and attractions, combined with not-fantastic airlines of scale in the region (although Air Botswana is I hear pretty good -but small), and ET’s expertise and buying power, I wonder if setting up a mini-hub to start with could be viable and could really help the region.

    I look forward to any thoughts and indeed insight..

    3 users thanked author for this post.

    SimonS1
    Participant

    Intetesting ideas. There could be some mileage, as EK also has a daily flight which could link in there.

    Proflight has also built up a decent operation (or had, pre-Covid).

    My concern would be the capability to run the operation at scale. Things in Lusaka have always moved at a fairly casual pace, the new airport is well overdue (and still not ready) and apron space could be at a premium with even a handful of flights arriving together.

    Plus the politics of airline operation in the region is tough – Stelios always had designs on a low cost operation in Southern Africa but could never make Fastjet work.

    I still think it’s more likely post Covid that a new South African airline will emerge (maybe with external capital). Geographically its not ideal but the economic size of SA is well ahead of other countries and the airport infrastructure is proven.

    The problem with SAA was not the airline itself, but the corruption and morons like Dudu Myeni put in to play with it as some political toy. Whether an airline in SA could ever survive without interference from the empowerment brigade is another matter.

    3 users thanked author for this post.

    BA789
    Participant

    Nice to see my home town of Lusaka feature on the BT forum! I’m not sure Lusaka can be a mini-hub and as there is not much air-traffic between the neighboring countries.

    Also, it will be difficult for the new airline to compete with Emirates on long-haul routes; BA stopped flying to Lusaka after over 40 years shortly after Emirates began operating flights to Lusaka (British Caledonian flew to Lusaka as well in the 1980s).


    BackOfThePlane
    Participant

    Alas, no, it ain’t going to happen. Not enough regional demand, insufficient available capital and all the usual concerns about business dealings in Africa.


    canucklad
    Participant

    I’d have thought in our new world ,starting, maintaining and sustaining a new airline wherever that might be would require a fundamental shift in thinking .

    Literally, starting from the ground up and prioritising your freight yields first. In this case Zambia’s imports and more importantly from a countries economic health , its exports .

    Secondly, local cross border co-operation is more important than aligning to a particular airline group. Combined a Zambian, Malawian, Botswanan grouping could even manage to drag Zimbabwe into a going concern to rival whatever SAA emerges as . Sharing the costs , risks and vitally the expertise that enables an airline to contribute to a states wellbeing only works if the key stakeholders have an emotional reason to see the venture succeed . However I suspect that’s a stretch in Africa. East African Airways being just one case model of political stupidity that’s allowed KQ to benefit Kenya’s economy at the cost of Tanzania and Uganda’s GDP .

    Start your start up with the absolute mantra that you’ll be the greenest on the spectrum of green. I’ll predict as we emerge from this global disaster .those of us who fly will be portrayed as badly as drink drivers are at the moment. That also involves governments protecting a countries most valuable natural resources and tackling those outside influences that undermine them by various , mostly immoral means. Again, sadly a stretch in Africa at the moment !

    1 user thanked author for this post.

    SimonS1
    Participant

    Pre-covid, Emirates was operating 4 flights a day to JNB and a decent percentage of those were connecting on to SAA (there was a code share). So there must be some demand from people travelling on to smaller destinations like Gaborone, Lumbumbashi, Beira, Pemba etc – the types of places that SAX used to service?

    I do take the point thought, a lot of the network traffic was South Africans working in other regional places and not travellers starting outside the region. Emirates and QR had that pretty much sewn up (which I guess is why BA had thrown in the towel on most routes).

    1 user thanked author for this post.

    rferguson
    Participant

    Yes, I think aviation in Africa is a totally different ball game.

    On the SAA front, I refuse to believe it is the end. It seems the African Alitalia – more lives than a cat! Only on the 16th of Feb the South African Govt announced they would inject another ZAR5billion into SAA (around US$342m).

    On top of that you have a regional aviation industry that is still quite regulated with many roadblocks put in the way of a new airline that wants to ‘shake things up’ a bit.

    And then you have the ‘pride’ aspect. I found this article hilarious – Kenya Airways was trying to streamline the airline operations to stem losses and part of that plan was to use an in-house low cost airline JamboJet to take over more regional routes. They planned on placing a a Q400 on the Nairobi to Bujumburu, Burundi. But the government of Burundi had a problem with Jambojet taking over from Kenya Airlines mainline aircraft. Why? The JamboJet Q400 has no Business Class. The Transport Minister of Burundi said “Our high state officials travel to the world mainly via Nairobi and need to be treated in Business Class conditions that are acceptable given their rank”. Burundi outright banned the swap from Kenya Airways to JamboJet. Entirely based on the feeling it wasn’t good enough for their high ranking officials to travel in. Never mind the fact it may have brought lower fares for everyone else.

    More African Countries Reject Planes Without Business Class

    It’s incredible to think that the distance between two of the largest African cities – Cairo and Lagos – is around the same distance as New York and Los Angeles. Yet (pre covid) there were more flights between 7am and 9am on a typical weekday than there were in a whole week between Cairo and Lagos.

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    sparkyflier
    Participant

    Thank you for your posts, views and insight so far!

    Re the initial scale of the airline – when it was announced I think it was envisaged the fleet would start with 2-3 Dash Q400s, 2-3 regional planes – 737 size, and 2-3 planes for long haul – I guess 787 size – building up to 12 planes by 2028.

    SimonS1 – I was anticipating your reply as recall you know this part of the world well. I have heard of Proflight but after your post looked them up, and see their planes are pretty tiny. Could they be a codeshare partner to ply to very thin routes such as Mongu and Solwezi etc, leaving the new ZA to focus on larger domestic and regional routes? Given an increase in feed into the country, could they learn to welcome the new airline?

    Good points re Fastjet, but maybe as it was a “private airline” and no business class seats for government staff/ministers there was no so much enthusiasm. Other nations are also scaling up – Uganda, Tanzania and of course Rwanda so this Zambia option is part of a trend.
    Agree with you re SAA – a victim of Zuma and his pals turning a very decent airline and business to a financial fiasco.
    About regional network travel I see demand being both ways between SA and Zambia, with routes into all 3 main
    cities, perhaps some routed via Livingstone to capture both business and tourist traffic.

    BA789 Indeed BCal did go there before BA took them over – initially with 707s, then when they were retired A310s going via Douala, Libreville and even Kinshasa, before flying direct again with DC-10s with a tag onto Gaberone. I was a member of the Golden Lion Club as a child..

    Re no demand with neighbouring countries – “back in the day” 737s of QZ and UM (Air Zimbabwe) used to go to Harare and be pretty full and travel most days – but that was before Zim became a basket case economy.
    Populations will have doubled in the past 30 years..

    Backoftheplane – I was thinking it was not going to happen – but the CAPA announcement and thinking there may be a business case has made me reconsider – however the booming national debt of Zambia could be the biggest block.

    Canucklad – profound points you make as usual. And indeed – I was focused on business and tourist traffic, and not really taken cargo onboard. Zambia has lots to export and given the lack of options I suspect they cannot export as easily as in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda etc – direct flights to Europe and Asia could give them quicker access to market.

    And post Covid I think demand for travel with nature as the destination will increase. I gather since EU-Zambia has lost direct flights tourism to Zambia has dropped, and tourism is great for conservation – animals have a value alive to the local population, rather than when no tourism the animals have a value dead.

    RF – Thank you for giving me the latest on SAA – I did wonder if the Gov had fully given up and it seems they had not. And you made me chuckle re Jambo Jet and Burundi. Which makes me think – further to the Fastjet point earlier, that the LCC model may not be ideal here – and a C/J class must be offered on all flights.

    As mentioned, other airlines in the region are investing in A330s etc (Air Tanzania and Uganda Airlines) with a view to starting London, India and China – an advantage the Zambia option has is ET’s experience and diverse fleet, especially if ET invest in A220/E190s.


    SimonS1
    Participant

    I suppose the other angle to this is that running airline activities from soft currency jurisdictions is a hazardous activity – for example repatriation of ticket monies and purchase of things like fuel and spare parts.

    Proflight has always been a well run airline and their Bombardier aircraft with +/- 50 capacity would I would have thought be ideal for this – connecting on to places like Lumumbashi, Blantyre, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Maun, Gaborone etc. Express and Airlink have always done quite well with aircraft of this size, In fact I see as well that with SAA hitting the buffers Proflight has already stepped into the breach to Johannesburg.

    Also in this region triangular routes also tend to work – ET does it, Rwandair with Kigali to Lusaka/JNB and Livingstone/CT, and also EK was doing Dubai-Lusaka-Harare and back. British Airways never seemed very keen on such routes, maybe the crewing was a cost.

    2 users thanked author for this post.

    LuganoPirate
    Participant

    I’ve always thought Kigali would make a good hub, better than Zambia as it’s more central though closer to Addis and Nairobi so perhaps more fierce competition.

    The other point Rferguson raised, about more flights between NY and Los Angeles, is explained by the culture and difference in standard of living. In general Africans have a much lower disposable (if any) income than in the West, and the fact they just don’t travel far outside their village. I have two people working for me that have not been further than 50 kms from their home in their whole lives and I’ve experienced this all over Africa where I have worked.

    1 user thanked author for this post.

    AMcWhirter
    Participant

    On the SAA front, I refuse to believe it is the end

    Well SAA is still operating long-haul albeit in a cargo rather than a passenger capacity.

    Aviation24.be reports today that SAA has brought its A340-600 to Brussels to collect much-needed Covid-19 vaccines.

    The flight arrived at 0945 this morning. It is scheduled to return tomorrow at 1840.

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    sparkyflier
    Participant

    Thank you again for your posts and contributions so far.

    Simon S1 – do you think Pro-flights could be amenable to working with the new ZA (QZ!), with codeshares etc – benefitting from the greater feed etc?

    I do wonder though when business people and more savvy travellers look at travel options, if the plane type they see detailed is either somewhat small, or a code they do not recognise, if that option becomes less desirable – for example I would choose an E95 code over an ERJ, and a 738 over a 733 etc My point being the planes on offer make the product on offer more marketable, and also people would want a bigger plane for longer journeys. For example a Dash Q400 would not be desirable for anything over 1.5/2 hours, but an A220, E190 or 737 would be fine up to 3-4 hours.

    About triangle flights I quite agree that these can be fine and indeed marketable, although TBH I think the reason BA do not do them is simply they do not have the imagination (!). Triangle routes help keep costs down by offering 2 destinations, with one slot pair, lower fuel costs, same staff and the crew rest in the safer destination (with lower insurance costs) – KLM and Brussels do these all over East, West and Central Africa and BA for example IMO could be an LHR-Abidjan-Accra-LHR in addition to their current ACC schedules (post Covid), or Freetown and Monrovia combined with Abidjan, or like stopping in Kilimanjaro en route to Dar.

    LP good point re Kigali. I have said many times on this forum that Rwandair is in a very good location for a hub and should indeed be in Oneworld. BA has no interest in Africa (preferring US etc), but given ET (Star), KQ (Skyteam), Rwandair would be ideal for a hub with feed from member airlines. One world is weak in Africa and I do not think RAM tick that box – long flights on 737 arriving in West Africa at 1-3 in the morning? No thank you.

    But as ET would be the partner, and Lusaka is closer to Namibia, Botswana, Zim, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique etc, it is in a good location whereas Joburg is too far south.

    The more I think about it the more scope I see – as long as the aircraft are right sized and appealing (crucial), schedules are coordinated etc, and if the airline allows Star Alliance points and benefits. You could see TK being keen on feeding Lusaka (codesharing) from IST, with their vast European, CIS and Asian network, along with maybe other Star carriers, and ZA/QZ2 being careful with their long haul routes.


    SimonS1
    Participant

    Simon S1 – do you think Pro-flights could be amenable to working with the new ZA (QZ!), with codeshares etc – benefitting from the greater feed etc?

    I do wonder though when business people and more savvy travellers look at travel options, if the plane type they see detailed is either somewhat small, or a code they do not recognise, if that option becomes less desirable – for example I would choose an E95 code over an ERJ, and a 738 over a 733 etc My point being the planes on offer make the product on offer more marketable, and also people would want a bigger plane for longer journeys. For example a Dash Q400 would not be desirable for anything over 1.5/2 hours, but an A220, E190 or 737 would be fine up to 3-4 hours.

    About triangle flights I quite agree that these can be fine and indeed marketable, although TBH I think the reason BA do not do them is simply they do not have the imagination (!). Triangle routes help keep costs down by offering 2 destinations, with one slot pair, lower fuel costs, same staff and the crew rest in the safer destination (with lower insurance costs) – KLM and Brussels do these all over East, West and Central Africa and BA for example IMO could be an LHR-Abidjan-Accra-LHR in addition to their current ACC schedules (post Covid), or Freetown and Monrovia combined with Abidjan, or like stopping in Kilimanjaro en route to Dar.

    LP good point re Kigali. I have said many times on this forum that Rwandair is in a very good location for a hub and should indeed be in Oneworld. BA has no interest in Africa (preferring US etc), but given ET (Star), KQ (Skyteam), Rwandair would be ideal for a hub with feed from member airlines. One world is weak in Africa and I do not think RAM tick that box – long flights on 737 arriving in West Africa at 1-3 in the morning? No thank you.

    But as ET would be the partner, and Lusaka is closer to Namibia, Botswana, Zim, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique etc, it is in a good location whereas Joburg is too far south.

    Re Proflight – not sure, it looks like Airlink has stolen a march, and I don’t think there is enough traffic for both. Also if I was flying from outside the region I would always fly via Johannesburg, partly because they have proven ability to do transfer traffic (Lusaka is always very ‘gentle’ paced), partly as there is more to do in the airport if waiting and partly because I don’t need to pay for a visa to get out the door if on an extended break.

    Also remember pre crisis Emirates was flying to JNB 4 x a day, but Lusaka only once. That also makes a difference.

    Re BA – at one stage they were doing a triangular route in West Africa to Monrovia (I think it stopped with Ebola) but the challenge is ending up with a crew cost downroute and finding suitable/secure places to stay.

    Interesting debate though.


    sparkyflier
    Participant

    Hi Simon S1. Re the triangles, BA never operated such routes (unless for avoiding war zones or for refuelling etc) as far as I know. The West African route was LHR-Freetown-Monrovia and then back via Freetown. Initially this route was 2 weekly, then 3 weekly, and then BA were thinking to move to either 777 or 4 times weekly, before Ebola came along – with the route having proved well in excess of expectations.

    BA have had a a few “tags”, especially in the Caribbean or Gulf however.

    And The Rwandair route is not a triangle either – capturing traffic both ways between LUN and JHB, using A330.

    I know both SN and KL use the triangles and use the safer or less expensive city for the crew rest, or where the hotels are more appropriate. For example in West Africa SN would use Abidjan over neighboring cities and in Tanzania KL uses DAR as opposed to Kilimanjaro where the hotels are not big enough ( I read that on this website many years ago).

    Zambia wants its wings back

    1 user thanked author for this post.

    SimonS1
    Participant

    Hi Simon S1. Re the triangles, BA never operated such routes (unless for avoiding war zones or for refuelling etc) as far as I know. The West African route was LHR-Freetown-Monrovia and then back via Freetown.

    Hi – it did years back, I recall BA doing Nairobi and on to Seychelles for example. I remember some enforced situations as well, I believe there was a period when the crew refused to overnight in Harare and the plane went empty to (?) Lusaka.

    It doesn’t seem to be part of the current armoury, however as the economy recovers, why not?

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