ANALYSIS: Airlines in Southern Africa - The Biggest and Fastest Growing Operators

Ahead of this year's World Routes forum, Routesonline is providing another look at our series of articles on the leading airlines and airports and most used aircraft types across regions of the world last year. Here we look closely at the airlines of Southern Africa and highlight the region's top performers.

Ahead of this year's World Routes forum, Routesonline is providing another look at our series of articles on the leading airlines and airports and most used aircraft types across regions of the world last year.  Here we look closely at the airlines of Southern Africa and highlight the region's top performers.

​ The data is all supplied by OAG Aviation using its OAG Schedules Analyser tool.

Scheduled Air Capacity From Southern Africa (2005 - 2014)

Our analysis of published schedules for the past ten years shows that air capacity within and from Southern Africa has risen from 24,971,070 available seats in 2005 to 34,259,688 available seats in 2014.  This represents a growth of 37.2 per cent across the period, an average annual increase of 4.1 per cent.  In the past year capacity increased 3.9 per cent.

Top Ten Airlines in the Southern African Market (2014)

The expansive aviation network in South Africa - thanks to strong internal domestic competition - means that the country was home to the four largest operators in southern Africa by departure seats within and from the region in 2014. National carrier South African Airways (SAA) remains the dominant carrier with a 35.8 per cent share of departure seats within and from southern Africa in 2014, albeit this is down from 37.5 per cent in 2010.

The airline has faced increasing pressure in its home market with Comair, the region’s second largest operator increasing its share from 17.9 per cent in 2010 to 21.6 per cent in 2014. This is split between its two operational units with its low-cost Kulula.com business holding an 11.3 per cent share of departure seats last year and its network franchise operation under the British Airways a 10.3 per cent share.

Another reason for SAA’s reduction in share is that its low-cost business, Mango, has boosted its own market share within and from southern Africa from 5.4 per cent to 8.7 per cent in 2014, ranking it as the fourth largest operator in the region.

The largest airline in southern Africa from outside South Africa is TAAG Angola Airlines, which held a 5.1 per cent share of capacity within and from the region in 2014. This was despite a second successive year of capacity declines since a high in 2012.   The Gulf hub carrier Emirates Airline is the largest operator from outside southern Africa to serve the region with a 3.3 per cent capacity share, despite departure seats from southern Africa falling 0.1 per cent between 2013 and 2014.

Fastest Growing Airlines in the Southern African Market (2010-2014)

Looking at capacity data in the region across a five year period the increasing role of hub airlines from outside of the area serving the Southern African market is clear. Our analysis shows that three of the top five and six of the top ten fastest growing airlines by departure capacity within and from southern Africa are based outside of the region.

East African carrier Ethiopian Airlines has grown capacity by the biggest margin with capacity up 184.2 per cent from 2010. Notable growth during this timescale was also recorded by Turkish Airlines (up 90.3 per cent) as its continued network growth has seen strong development in this part of Africa. Other carriers from outside the region that have grown in southern Africa between 2010 and 2014 include Emirates Airline (up 80.2 per cent), KLM (up 38.9 per cent), Qatar Airways (up 37.0 per cent) and Kenya Airways (up 24.5 per cent).

Zambia’s Proflight Commuter Services was the fastest growing local carrier within and from Southern Africa by capacity between 2010 and 2014 (up 89.8 per cent), while Malawian Airlines arrived in the market and has already established itself as 13th largest operator in the region by capacity with a 1.0 per cent share of departure seats.

Only three airlines among the top 20 operators within and from southern Africa reported capacity declines between 2010 and 2014 and these were very modest falls. These comprised Air Botswana (down 2.4 per cent), TAAG Angola Airlines (down 1.9 per cent) and Air Zimbabwe (down 1.3 per cent).

Data comparison between 2013 and 2014 shows that although South Africa dominates this region of Africa and its largest airlines had strong capacity gains last year, it is one airline from outside the country and one from outside the region that have shown the largest capacity growth within and from southern Africa over the period.

South Africa’s top four airlines have all shown growth in 2014 (Mango, up 12.2 per cent; Comair – Kulula, up 9.0 per cent; South African Airways, up 3.8 per cent and Comair – British Airways, up 2.2 per cent) but among the top ten operators within and from southern Africa it is East African carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, that has seen the largest capacity rise with departure seats up 73.8 per cent.

Double-digit year-on-year growth was also reported by LAM - Linhas Aereas De Mocambique in 2014 (up 18.0 per cent), while Air Namibia (down 7.5 per cent), TAAG Angola Airlines (down 2.9 per cent) and Emirates Airline (down 0.1 per cent) all reported capacity declines between 2013 and 2014.

Looking at the wider top twenty airlines in the region it is Air Zimbabwe that recorded the largest year-on-year capacity growth between 2013 and 2014. The state-run national carrier grew capacity 88.6 per cent between the two years as it has grown its domestic activities and flights to Johannesburg from Bulawayo, Harare and Victoria Falls.

Start-up carrier Malawian Airlines was also a notable arrival into the region’s skies in 2014. The airline, a successor to Air Malawi is a joint venture between the Government and Ethiopian Airlines. It launched operations at the end of January 2014 and now serves seven destinations across five countries from Blantyre and Lilongwe.

Scheduled Southern African Capacity by Aircraft Type

The chart below shows which aircraft types were most prevalent in the Southern African market during 2014. The schedule data shows that the Boeing 737 holds the strongest position in the region but also shows the important role an older Classic variant of the aircraft plays.

The Boeing 737-800 (738) is the most widely used aircraft type in this market with a massive 29.9 per cent share of available seats with overall network capacity increasing by 12.0 per cent between 2013 and 2014 to just over ten million departure seats, the first year this milestone has been achieved.

The second most utilised aircraft type in this market is the older Boeing 737-400 (734) with a 6.3 per cent share, down 8.0 per cent in 2014, while the third most widely operated type by network capacity is the Airbus A319 (319) with a 6.1 per cent share, down 9.2 per cent, followed by the Bombardier Dash 8 (DH8) with a 4.7 per cent share, up 0.7 per cent.

The biggest rises in annual capacity among the top ten aircraft types in Southern Africa were recorded by the Airbus A320 (320) with a 56.2 per cent rise in available seats in 2014 versus 2013 and the small Embraer ERJ-135 (ER3) regional jet with a 10.5 per cent rise.

Four of the ten aircraft types most prevalent in Southern Africa witnessed a decline in usage in 2014 versus 2013. The largest declines in annual capacity were recorded by the Boeing 777-300ER (77W) with a fall of 13.8 per cent versus 2013 and the Airbus A319 (319) with a decline in seats of 9.2 per cent.

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