Aviation: The African ‘National Carrier Air Race’ begins but the money will go to those mining the miners


The best news that we have been treated to in recent days is not how ‘African’ the French win of the World cup but the thawing of relations between Ethiopian and Eritrea. Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister is currently hogging all the good headline sections in the press that were a while ago dedicated to Tanzania’s John Pombe Magufuli.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been in the news for a number of reforms he has set rolling in Ethiopia. The recent meetings with the Eritrean leader no doubt topped the list. As part of the new good relations between the two brotherly nations, Ethiopian Airlines flew from Addis Ababa to Asmara allowing many relatives to reunite after years of separation. The internet is full of photos of families embracing in tearful hugs thanks to this new chapter.

If you ask me, that flight from Addis to Asmara should continue trending as the best aviation story of the month. However it was not the only aviation story doing the rounds. There was the one of Air Tanzania receiving the first of two brand new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners. In the last two years the Tanzanians have been reviving their national airline with domestic flights and international flights starting very soon. They expect a CS 300 Bombardier by November to add to their growing fleet.

After over 18 years out of service, it appears that President Yoweri Museveni was serious about the revival of Uganda Airlines. There is news that four Bombardier jets and as well two Airbus A330-800neo aircrafts have been paid for and the airline should be in service by December, serving regional destinations.

The revival of Air Tanzania is certainly set to disrupt the market share that has been enjoyed by Kenya Airways and RwandAir especially on the Dar es Salaam and Bujumbura routes. I remember a Tanzanian friend who had to wait in Kigali for over 6 hours for a connecting flight to Dar after we had travelled together from Entebbe on RwandAir. With Uganda Airlines set to join the race, the excitement is palatable.

Many around East Africa are anxious to see what this means for East Africans. Shall we see better services from Kenya Airways now that more competition is coming to their door step?

Will RwandAir continue with its expansion plans after enjoying the vacuum created by Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi’s national carriers? Will prices go down and make travel more affordable for East Africans? Will any of the airlines eventually be like Ethiopian Airlines, I mean profitable? So many questions indeed.

If you asked, I really care less as to who buys what kind of aircraft or how many of them unless you tell me that our leaders have finally agreed to make East Africa a single airspace and flights between our capitals are considered domestic flights and thus affordable. I doubt they would agree for us to go back to I have followed the aviation industry for a while and the fact that only Ethiopian Airlines is profitable on the continent has compelled me to look elsewhere.

Ever heard of the phrase mining the miners? Well during the famous “California Gold Rush” none of the gold miners ever became millionaires. Instead the men who came to California and sold things and services to the miners are the ones that laughed their way to the bank.

Men like Sam Brannan, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, and Collins Huntington and of course Levi Strauss whose company manufactured the much loved blue jeans that had their pockets reinforced with rivets, made a whole lot of money.

The Gold Rush had seen more than 300,000 people moving to California. It is this mass of people that served as a good market for those ‘mining the miners.’ The phrase has remained in use today to refer to those who opt to make money by addressing the needs of those who are making money. Sometimes you see a small construction site with a lady at one corner cooking and selling food to the builders.

When it comes to aviation, the industry has always been growing whether or not we had national airlines. The number of travellers, aircraft and airlines keeps growing. All this provides a huge opportunity for one to mine the industry by supplying it with pilots, engineers, in-flight magazines, in-flight meals, jet fuel and so much more. I will leave you with an interesting line from Peiter Nel, “All African countries need air travel, [but] not all countries need an airline”.

By Allan Brian Ssenyonga

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