Kenya Airways (KQ) and South African Airways (SAA) signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement last November, a key milestone toward the two ailing airlines’ plan to launch a joint continental airline.
The Kenyan carrier eyes some of the major SAA-operated routes in Europe and West Africa in a bid to expand its reach ahead of the planned formation of a Pan-African airline.
Two troubled airlines
It is no secret that these two pillars of African aviation have both had their share of financial troubles in recent years with the South African carrier only emerging from bankruptcy in September last year, after over a year and a half of being grounded.
The Kenyan airline has not done quite as bad as her South African counterpart but has nonetheless been the subject of a nationalization bid from her government in addition to having been suspended from trading at the Nairobi Securities Exchange not so long ago.
Kenya’s national carrier has since been the recipient of substantial fiscal bail-outs with the promise of a much-needed restructuring of the company that includes the formation of an alliance with fellow strugglers South African Airways.
Following SAA’s bankruptcy that saw the airline halt its activities for 18 months due to the COVID pandemic, South Africa’s national carrier has had to downsize significantly shrinking its workforce by about 80 percent and its fleet to six Airbus SE jets flying to nine domestic and international destinations making the alliance with KQ ever more necessary.
Major route take-over
Prior to their Strategic Partnership Agreement, the two carriers signed a memorandum of cooperation to create an airline group that would, hopefully, help them recover from their dire financial situations in the future by “taking advantage of the strengths of the two airlines’ busy hubs.”
While the long-term goal is to form a Pan-African airline, the short-term collaboration will include combining passenger and cargo networks, sharing innovation and expertise, and improving customer experience.
South African Airways’ lack of widebody aircraft following its restructuring offers KQ an opportunity to take over the carrier’s long-haul routes hence providing a chance for SAA to fly its passengers in Europe and West Africa.
Transport Principal Secretary Joseph Njoroge says London and Abuja are some of the routes that KQ desires to get from the ailing South African Airways in order to expand its customer base with Johannesburg as the proposed stopping point to pick up passengers to the two destinations.
“There are routes that KQ wants to take from South African Airways because of their strength on routes and available aircraft; we are still in negotiation on this matter,” said Njoroge.
For the future
The signing of the Strategic Partnership Framework will see both carriers work together to increase passenger traffic, cargo opportunities, and general trade as well as foster the exchange of knowledge, expertise, innovation, digital technologies, and best practice between the two.
The Principal Secretary said part of the initiative signed by the duo included the training of Kenya Airways pilots in South Africa. “South Africa is ahead of us when it comes to aviation training and we want to leverage on this and use the SAA facility as our training hub,” he said.
Kenya does not have a simulator for Embraer 190 aircraft and local pilots are trained either in Johannesburg or Amsterdam.
The proposed major route take-over is the first official announcement of what the SAA-KQ partnership will look like. For South Africa, KQ offers a chance for its passengers to connect to long-haul routes while Kenya Airways expects to expand its reach to these destinations.
Eventually, both airlines will be hoping to launch a slew of routes across Africa to cater to unmet demand by recruiting the third airline to the proposed alliance, preferably from the West African region.
by Ronnie Afema