Kenya Airways not the only national carrier on continent not turning a profit

Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer Mbuvi Ngunze (right) cuts a ribbon to welcome the airline’s second Boeing 787 Dreamliner last year. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]

Nairobi: With Kenya Airways making such historic losses, the question now is whether the country actually needs a Government-funded carrier.

This is a question several other African countries have also been grappling with.

Most, if not all, national carriers in Africa are loss-making outfits that survive on a constant drip from national treasuries.

But it's important to note that KQ is perhaps not faring any worse.

Out of the 54 African countries that established national carriers upon independence, currently only 15 airlines remain operational and only one, Ethiopian Airlines, is making a profit.

The continent's fallen or falling airlines include Air Zimbabwe, Uganda Airlines that was dissolved in May 2001, and Nigerian Airways that was grounded in 2003.

By October 2013, not less than nine national carriers (and a few private carriers supported by the State) were flying, courtesy of financial support by their respective governments.

Costly turnaround

They include Arik Air, Air Namibia, Air Zimbabwe, Precision Air, RwandAir, Air Mauritius, Royal Air Maroc and South African Airways.

Others are Air Seychelles, Madagascar Airline, TAAG Angola and Air Mozambique.

By 2012, South African Airlines was said to be on the decline, but it is currently going through the most expensive turnaround effort on the continent.

According to the Centre of Aviation, Morocco's Royal Air Maroc is currently the most expensive airline to taxpayers.

Camair-Co, Cameroon's national carrier, is also reportedly seeking additional funding from the government to remain afloat.

Ethiopian Airlines, the continent's only success story, made history in 2012 when it became the first carrier outside Japan to operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a state-of-the-art passenger jet.

Air Namibia expects to break even in 2016 while Air Zimbabwe is gradually getting back on its feet after it was grounded in January 2012.

The dismal performance of airlines on the continent is underpinned by a myriad of challenges.

Although there are over one billion people in the continent, Africa accounts for only three per cent of the world's aviation business.

A number of airlines on the continent also do not have good safety records while others are not sanctioned to fly outside Africa.

Flying from one city to another on the continent also still remains an expensive affair as sometimes you might have to make a connection through Europe!

National carriers have also been facing competition from low-cost airlines, which include, Fastjet,, Mango, FlySafair, Fly540, JamboJet, Dana Air, Flydubai, and Skywise. is the continent's first low-cost carrier and one of its most successful, which is operated by South Africa's Comair, the local partner of British Airways.

It serves a dozen cities, namely Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, East London, Windhoek, Harare, Mauritius, Victoria Falls, Livingstone and Nairobi.

Fastjet first took off from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania in 2011 and has since spread its wings to Johannesburg, Entebbe, Harare, Kilimanjaro, Lusaka, Mbeya and Mwanza.

Most African nations choose to leave their national carriers to collapse.

In 2005, Ghana Air finally shut down after the government refused to rescue it from staggering debts.

But the Kenyan government has continued to support the loss-making Kenya Airways because it is one of the country's most recognisable brands internationally.