Africa’s biggest airlines?

How well do we know our continent’s aviation industry, or is there one at all? Are any of of the continent’s airlines trustworthy, safe and competitive like the big guns of the rest of the world? The majority of the dominant airlines are in North Africa with the likes of Air Algerie and Tunis Air even though the big guns are dotted on all corners of Africa. West Africa is still lagging in aviation with countries like Nigeria not even having a flag carrier national airline. Most people from Africa would probably get this wrong. Which is Africa’s biggest player in aviation by fleet size, routes and passenger capacity and and revenue generation?

Ethiopian Airlines tails at Bole International Airport

Ethiopian Airlines, yes the boss of the African skies and growing stronger and stronger. It’s the only airline in Africa that boasts of the most modern aircraft from both Airbus and Boeing, the two leading aircraft manufacturers and recently won the African Aviation African Airline of the Year for 2017 for the second year in a row at an event held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Ethiopian is a multi-award winning airline: Airline of the Year Award, for the fifth consecutive year, by African Airlines Association (AFRAA), SkyTrax World Airline Award for Best Airline Staff in Africa, Best African Cargo Airline of the Year Award, and Passenger Choice Award for Best Airline in Africa, to mention a few. Only brighter days are in store for this airline, all things equal. (Fleet size – 78 aircraft as of Dec 2016).

Ethiopian Airlines Airbus A350XWB

Egypt Air is once was the most dominant at some point but the political situation in that country has had a negative impact on its operations both locally and globally but still ranks up there in the top 5 of African Airlines. (Egypt Air – 51 aircraft as of 2016)


South African Airways, by far the largest airline in southern and central Africa from revenue, fleet size and passengers carried operates from O R Tambo airport in Johannesburg and still ranks in the big 5. In fact it currently tops the number of passengers carried annually even though by next year that should surely fall to Ethiopian Airlines at the rate its growing and also because of the woes facing SAA. (Fleet size – 55 aircraft as of 2016).

South African Airways
Royal Air Morocco

Royal Air Morocco is north and west Africa’s biggest airline even though there are many others in the region offering positive competition. Definitely one of the big 5 in Africa with a large fleet and passenger turnover. ( Fleet size – 54 aircraft as of Dec 2016).


Kenya Airways, affectionately known as The Pride of Africa is a big player in Africa. Up until a few years back it was experiencing rapid positive growth which was a model for African airlines. Despite its problem and problems in the country affecting its operations it’s still a big player and boasts of some modern aircraft from Boeing. (Fleet size – 46 aircraft as of Dec 2016).

Kenya Airways

New airlines are sprouting all over the continent creating a positive outlook for the aviation industry in Africa in the near future. Some airlines have been around for a while but are also beginning to make good inroads such as Air Namibia, RwandAir of Rwanda and Arik Air of Nigeria. Almost every country now either has a flag carrier airline or privately own airline servicing it and all things being equal are actually performing better than expected. Africa is billed to have the highest air travel growth rate in the next 20 years, so this is good news for most fledgling airlines and already established ones.

Arik Air of Nigeria
RwandAir of Rwanda
Air Namibia

Africa is also catching up on low-cost carriers or budget airlines like they’re popularly known with some notable names such as, FastJet, Mango and Dana Air performing quiet well so far. Low cost carriers have actually brought the right kind of competition to full service airlines and have made connectivity even better. Can you believe it that most traveller North of the Sahara used to go to Europe first on their way to another African country, that is a person travelling from Yaounde Cameroon would use Air France to Paris and then fly back to Africa to Congo Brazzaville because there was no direct air connection before. – Africa’s first low-cost carrier.
Mango – Another SA low-cost carrier.
Faster – First base in Tanzania.
Dana Air – based in Nigeria

The outlook is great for aviation in Africa in general and could even be better if all countries sign up to the Open Skies agreement that would make it easier for African airlines to fly across each other’s airspace with less hustle. If all this happens I am sure it wont be long till everyone will say what my sister once said to me when she was passing through Qatar, she was like “Ah Mandla when we were at Hamad Int’l Airport, I looked outside the window on both directions and all I could see was Qatar Airways, Qatar Airways. It was like a bus station of the same company”. Wouldn’t that be lovely to have that for our own local airlines.

Thank you all for reading and visiting my Facebook page AviaConnect and Instagram account @avia_connect.

Safe flying

AviaConnect (M B Dube)


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