African airlines shift focus to turboprops, others for regional routes

Ethiopian Airlines announced aircraft purchases valued at around $332 million

A huge number of African airlines are improving air links within the continent and West African region following a shift from regional aircraft to smaller aircraft, especially turboprops.


This has brought some of the most exciting developments in the realm of intra-African air services.


Flying within West Africa and flights within East Africa had long been costly for airline operators but that is slowly beginning to change as air service regulations loosen and airlines discover the potential of intra-African services.


In 2018, Africa’s biggest and most profitable airline, Ethiopian Airlines, announced aircraft purchases valued at around $332 million to help solidify its domestic and regional reach.


The order of the Q400 turboprops was to expand its Bombardier fleet to 39 and to help reach underserved markets in Africa,  especially those with low traffic density routes and small or chal


lenging airfields.
As intra-African travel improves and becomes more affordable, Ethiopian aims to become the pan-African passenger and cargo network that connects the continent. It has done so partly through strategic investments and partnerships and reviving defunct or struggling airlines like Zambia Airways.
The company also manages hubs in countries including Malawi and Togo to spread its footprint and is currently looking to establish more central locations in Mozambique, Chad and Equatorial Guinea.
Lome, Togo based ASKY Airline, an affiliate of Ethiopian Airlines took delivery of three Q400 NextGen turboprop aircraft to service West African routes like Lagos, Abuja, Accra and other routes within the continent.
The Q400 NextGen turboprop airline, which is built at Bombardier’s Toronto, Ontario facility, is the most recent development in the evolution of the Q400 aircraft, and the advanced successor to Bombardier’s Dash 8/Q-Series family of aircraft.
Optimised for short-haul operation, the comfortably 70- and 80-seat Q400 NextGen aircraft is a large, fast, quiet and fuel-efficient turboprop. It provides an ideal balance of passenger comfort and operating economics with a reduced environmental footprint.


The Q400 and other turboprops airliners are designed to meet the requirements of contemporary regional air transport characterized by both turboprops and jet mission.


A former Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Nigeria, Capt. Dapo Olumide, said turboprops are some of the most productive aircraft in the West African sub-region depending on the distance to be covered, adding that the modern turbo props like the Dash Q-400 are just as fast as CRJ jet regional jets.


“So, it has nothing to do with speed but when you talk about intra African operations, it is a huge difference in distance between Lagos and Cotonou. For example, if you are doing Lagos-Cotonou, Lagos-Accra, yes Turboprop is ideal. It is perfect, it is fuel efficient amongst other things. It doesn’t need ground support equipment to offload the luggage. It does not need to go to the gates because gates are very expensive,” said Olumide.


”As you go further like Lagos to Dakar, Laos-Pointe Noire, Lagos to Nairobi, a turboprop cannot make that far distance. It is ideal for one hour flights. In other words, for Nigerian domestic operations, it is perfect. You don’t need more than that. On intra-Africa, it depends on how far away it is. Lagos-Accra, turboprop is fine but you have to think about high density routes,” he added.


Virtually all the airports in Nigeria are served by turboprop aircraft. Overland Airways which has the highest number of turboprop airplanes has a fleet of nine modern aircraft composed of ATR-42s‚ ATR-72s and Beechcraft 1900Ds which it deploys to various destinations in Nigeria‚ West and Central Africa.


Managing Director of a popular airline with vast majority of the aircraft type, who pleaded anonymity, stated that in selecting an aircraft for operations, one needs to consider the business model of such an airline which determines the right size of airplanes to use which could be long haul aircraft and narrow body airplanes for regional services and small airplanes for short-haul operations.


Many airlines in West Africa operate the turboprops or very small airplanes in the last three years. This is what Nigerian operators have not been able to comprehend because of the penchant to acquire and operate B737 Classics that are fuel guzzling and very expensive to maintain.


Because the distances are very short, many operators have continued to deploy majorly the popular Q400 and ATR planes.


The winners have the right type of equipment. There are two things that work against airlines that get it wrong. The second mistake they make is to think that jet aircraft are cheaper than turboprops. A turboprop is more modern. A more modern turboprop is more modern than an old jet plane. For example, a Q-400 is much more advanced than a B737 classic. They are more expensive.




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