Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

West Africa’s aerial shuttle busses

September 3, 2010

Try and get from Dakar to Monrovia, a hop of 1,000 km down the West Africa coast, and you are likely to find yourself passing through any number of the region’s airports before getting there over 12 hours later, and at least $1,000 poorer. One suggested flight route is, in all seriousness, go on Kenya Airways via Nairobi and back.

West and Central Africa was once served by Air Afrique, a much-cursed but vaguely-reliable French-backed outfit which provided links within the region and abroad before going bust in 2002. Now getting around the region hinges on a patchwork of smaller airlines with hit and miss connections that make travel slow and extortionately expensive.

Senegal claims to be a regional hub but its own airline went under after a row with partners. Mauritania’s national carrier is suffering after one of its planes crashed in Guinea and split in two earlier this year. Despite its crisis, Ivory Coast’s Air Ivoire still plies some routes, though flights are frequently cancelled or long-delayed.

Some steps are being made to improve things. ASKY, a Togolese company that has backing from Ecobank and Ethiopian Airlines, has started running some routes out of Lome but apparently is having trouble securing landing rights in Dakar and Abidjan, making it a less viable option for travelers.

The IFC, the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, has provided a $25 million loan to the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development for lending to Air Burkina and Air Mali to help develop Africa’s regional aviation networks

Senegal is seeking to reinvent its national carrier, this time to be called Senegal Airways, potentially with help from Emirates, the Gulf airline that has just secured landing rights in Dakar.

And regional body ECOWAS has for years been trying to fill the void left by Air Afrique’s going bust. 

So why is air travel in West and Central Africa so difficult, when eastern and southern Africa appear to have well-established airlines?

Will these new carriers be any more reliable or less costly than their predecessors? Will they last any longer?

How much is this hurting business in the region?

Should each of the countries seek to have a national carrier, or would the region do better by clubbing together to have a fewer, but more reliable carriers?

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