Until about 2000, many African airlines adopted the same strategy as their larger competitors on other continents: using large aircraft on all but very short flights.
More recently, however, Brazilian firm Embraer has had great success in marketing its small and mid-sized aircraft. They can prove more commercially viable on the midrange routes that are the basis of the African aviation industry. Airbus and Boeing continue to dominate the global aviation industry but Embraer has managed to cement its position as the world’s third-biggest manufacturer by specialising in smaller aircraft. Embraer signalled its commitment to the region when it appointed its first vice-president for commercial aviation in the Middle East and Africa in 2011, Mathieu Duquesnoy.
He predicts that the firm will double its sales revenue in Africa over the next 20 years, but this is dependent on the Yamoussoukro Decision actually being implemented. Under Yamoussoukro, African governments agreed to open up their airline sectors to cross-border competition. As discussed elsewhere, the Decision was reached in 1999 and was due to be implemented within three years but has still not come fully into force.
There are currently about 670 large and medium-sized aircraft based in Africa. Estimates vary but most sources predict that this figure will double by 2030. Embraer is obviously keen to promote the advantages of mid-sized aircraft. Duquesnoy says: “If deregulation does not happen, the African skies will continue to be dominated by old, oversized aircraft and airlines will not be able to address the demand for better linking of the continent’s large airports.” The chief executive of aviation IT firm Locatory, Zilvinas Sadauskas, commented:
“There remain wide growth avenues for shortto medium-haul airline service within Africa – a market aptly tailored for Embraer jets.” About 124 Embraer commercial aircraft operate in Africa, based in 24 different countries, comprising 49 Embraer 120s, 38 ERJs, 30 E-Jets and seven 110s, while E190s are now also being introduced.
The other side of the Brazilian firm’s business is military aircraft, which it has supplied to eight air forces, most recently Mauritania, which received an unspecified number of A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft at the end of last year. The company’s head of defence and security Luiz Carlos Aguiar said: “With this delivery, we are broadening our ties with the African continent, where this aircraft has generated great interest.”
Other Embraer customers in Africa include Kenya Airways, EgyptAir Express and Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique (LAM). LAM has taken delivery of the first of three Embraer 145s that it will lease to provide services around Mozambique and within the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The 145 has seating for just 50 passengers and so can be deployed on routes that would not justify larger aircraft.
South African firm Airlink, which operates 11 Embraer aircraft, is to set up an Embraer service centre in Johannesburg, while there is already another support centre for the Brazilian company’s aircraft in Morocco, which is operated by Air Atlantique.
Yet another centre is planned for Kenya, where Kenya Airways has ordered 20 E-Jets. Kenya Airways chief operating officer Mbuvi Ngunze said: “Soon we might be able to announce something substantive from a training point of view. That will bring advantages in terms of timing, costs and flexibility. This is something we are working on, so watch this space. On spares, we are working with Embraer to deliver a service centre, but these things depend on critical mass.”