Efforts by African countries to revive defunct national airlines and increase regional connectivity is increasing. East Africa, home to the continent’s most successful airlines, is leading the way in developing new routes.

Routes are central to enhancing intra-Africa air connectivity, says Abel Alemu, Ethiopian Airlines Regional Manager for Southern Africa. “It reduces the need for unnecessary long-haul flights via European hubs in an effort to connect African countries.” It is, however, not an easy undertaking and maintaining revenue growth and route profitability are possibly the two biggest challenges facing airlines, he says.

Raphael Kuuchi, Vice President for Africa at Iata, agrees saying this has contributed to not enough route development. “It is easy to get flight connections between the main hubs in the region, but most of the other cities are lucky to have one flight a day if not less,” he says.

According to Kuuchi, despite this there seems to be renewed focus on route development in East Africa. “There is no doubt that we are seeing growing incident of new routes being created and additional frequencies coming into the region.”

Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa, attributes this to the strong airlines operating in East Africa. This, he says, includes several national carriers but also some good performing low-cost airlines.

Delivering connectivity

Route development holds much benefit, says Zweigenthal. “Tourism is one area that will benefit. More routes simply mean more tourists. There is so much potential for the region if it can improve its air access.”

It holds benefits for Southern Africa as well. “It is about creating ease of travel for tourists,” he says. “A systematic and structured approach is required improving not only air access within regions but also regions to each other. One must be able to travel seamlessly by air from Southern Africa to the East and back.”

Both Zweigenthal and Kuuchi maintain that more infrastructure is required on the ground if more route development is to take place.

“There is no reason why African regions cannot be successful at this. It will require more collaboration and we are seeing the first positive steps in that direction. Considering the size of our markets on this continent and the tourism offering, more routes will bring more opportunity,” says Zweigenthal.