As members of the Somalia diaspora return home in growing numbers – emboldened by an improving security climate and apparent political progress, commercial air transport looks set to play a pivotal role in the country’s redevelopment.
For ethnic Somalis living in Europe and North America, one arterial link has already transformed connectivity with the homeland. In March 2012, Turkish Airlines began flying twice weekly from Istanbul to Mogadishu.
Frequencies have since risen to four times weekly, and the airline is evaluating a daily service if demand keeps growing. With no other major international carriers serving Mogadishu, the route presently accounts for 23% of the airport’s available seat kilometres (a measure of capacity).
Three national airlines also provide Mogadishu with much-needed connectivity. Jubba Airways is the largest, serving major domestic points such as Hargeisa, Kismayo and Bosaso, as well as four international points (Djibouti, Dubai, Jeddah and Nairobi). Two other Somali-owned companies – African Express Airways and Daallo Airlines – also fly domestically and regionally from Mogadishu, albeit with their primary hubs located abroad.
“Outside Mogadishu there are no real roads, so civil aviation is very important in Somalia,” Said Korshel, the country’s Transport Minister, tells African Business. “That’s why each local city is making its own airstrip, so you can fly from Mogadishu to any location in the country. There are a lot of Somalis who are now investing in small planes to make these connections.”
Prior to the outbreak of civil war in 1991, flag-carrier Somali Airlines had operated an extensive network across Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Although the airline has been grounded for more than two decades, Somalia’s newly established federal government is committed to eventually resurrecting it. A recent attempt at partnering with German flag-carrier Lufthansa was not successful, but Korshel stresses that all options – including joint ventures with domestic operators – remain on the table.
“I think Somali Airlines could be back in the coming five years. It’s possible,” he says. “The flag-carrier still has a lot of assets. Almost all the buildings near the airport belong to Somali Airlines. It owns an office in Rome and in Nairobi. We want to give other companies – Jubba, African Express, Daallo – a chance to join together, and each one take a share and create a big Somali Airlines.”
For now, though, the sector has more immediate priorities. Turkish airport operator Favori is nearing completion of the brand-new terminal at Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport – an upgrade that President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud believes will “change the face of Somalia”. The federal government is also working with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the UN’s aviation body, to transfer control of Somali airspace from an overseas caretaker body back to Mogadishu.