Thursday, September 26, 2013

► SHARJAH: LCC Air Arabia looks to West African market for possible expansion.

Air Arabia logoAdel Ali, the CEO of Sharjah-based LCC, Air Arabia (G9), has pointed to the underserved, underexploited West African market as his airline's next point of focus. Mr Ali made the announcement during a recent 2013 Dubai Airfinance Conference briefing.

In its drive to expand its influence south of the Sahara, Air Arabia will likely position its Moroccan subsidiary, Air Arabia Maroc (3O) to leverage the Morocco/European Union Open Skies agreement to tap into the vast West-African Diaspora market which sees a strong presence in France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. As it stands, flights between Europe and West Africa are at present dominated by full-service European & MENA carriers as well as Kenya Airways (KQ), Ethiopian Airlines (ET) and Royal Air Maroc (AT).

However, access to the West African nations themselves will involve Air Arabia Maroc being accorded traffic rights as per the terms of Morocco's various Bilateral Air Service Agreements. In its recent 4Q 2012 overview of operations, Air Arabia bemoaned the "monopolies" on African skies that were holding back private carriers from developing new markets and noted that its Moroccan subsidiary, in which it owns a 41% stake with the rest owned by Moroccan investors, was actively pursuing West African traffic rights but did not stipulate which, if any, had so far been secured.

West Africa's growing economic clout, propelled by regional powerhouse, Nigeria, has increasingly become the focus of various international and regional airlines, eager to tap into the region's potential. 

Tunisair (TU), Air Algérie (AH) and Libya's Afriqiyah (8U) have all outlined ambitions to launch services into the region while prior to its recent political and subsequent economic troubles, Egyptair (MS) had mulled the establishment of a West African subsidiary based out of Accra, though those plans appear to have now been put on hold.