How Qatar Airways Is Gearing Up To Challenge Ethiopian In Africa

By Laura Ash , February 8, 2020

How will Qatar Airways compete in Africa? Photo: Getty Images

(Simple Flying) — With a number of recent developments, Qatar Airways is demonstrating that it’s ready to take on competition from Ethiopian Airlines in Africa. The Middle Eastern carrier hopes that a new airport venture and a stake in numerous airlines will boost its presence and profitability in the region.

How will Qatar Airways challenge Ethiopian Airlines?

Qatar Airways is lining itself up with a number of African ventures in the coming months and years. The airline recently signed an agreement to take a majority stake in a new airport in Rwanda. What’s more, it’s also expressed an interest in two African carriers: RwandAir and Royal Air Maroc.

If it goes ahead with these airline ventures in addition to the airport stake, Qatar Airways will be putting itself in direct competition with airlines that already operate on the continent. Namely, this will be Ethiopian Airlines.

Ethiopian Airlines already occupies many routes throughout Africa. In fact, with 61 cities served, it offers more destinations in Africa than any other airline in the world. That’s some tough competition for Qatar Airways to match up to. So why does it want to invest in Africa?

Ethiopian Airlines proves quite a match for Qatar Airways in Africa. Photo: Thomas Boon / Simple Flying

Well, on 5th February 2020 at the CAPA Qatar Aviation conference, Qatar Airways spoke of the opportunity it would gain from investment in Africa. According to Bloomberg, the CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, said:

“…we see that Africa is another region that has huge growth potential.”

Africa is a good investment for Qatar Airways

Needless to say that Africa is a great place for Qatar Airways to be. However, alone it would find it very difficult to operate. The airline is hampered by an airspace ban which makes flying to Africa problematic.

In June 2017, a blockade was placed by four Middle Eastern countries preventing Qatar Airways from operating within their airspace. The Qatari air carrier is prohibited from flying over Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt in the interest of national security in those countries. At the time, this sent a shockwave through the country who had previously believed the neighboring countries to be friends. Despite this, the CEO of Qatar Airways believes that the exclusion has helped the airline develop resistance and strength. That said, for future routes, a RwandAir or Royal Air Maroc stake will make navigating the blockade a little bit easier.

Operating within Africa would then become a lot easier for Qatar Airways. As a result, it allows the airline to effectively compete against Ethiopian Airlines. What’s more, with the investment in Rwanda’s Bugesara International Airport, Qatar Airways will have more jurisdiction about how its operations work in Africa.

That said, Ethiopian Airlines is not without a gameplan. It too holds a vested interest in African routes. However, unlike Qatar Airways or RwandAir, it already has a robust African offering and does not have any of the airspace restrictions that Qatar Airways does.

In addition, it’s funding a mega airport in Addis Ababa which will facilitate its expansion plans. This could present a threat for Qatar Airways who might be a few steps behind the mark when it comes to African expansion.

Will Qatar manage to topple Ethiopian in Africa?

Whilst Ethiopian Airlines certainly seems to have the edge on the Qatari airline, that’s not to say that all of its hopes are in vain. In fact, it has a lot going for it. Firstly, it already owns a more extensive route network in comparison to Ethiopian with 54 additional services. That already allows it the benefit of serving passengers arriving at and transiting through Africa.

Qatar Airways already has an extensive network. Photo: Norvikk via Wikimedia Commons

On top of this, the geographical location might have some bearing on the success of Qatar Airways’ African venture. If it takes a stake in RwandAir, it will be in a good position to serve countries within Africa. However, since the country is located in the center of Africa, expanding to international destinations might be more problematic.

But then, if Qatar Airways took a stake in both RwandAir and Royal Air Maroc it will have covered its bases since Morrocco is on the upper west side of Africa. Whilst not quite in the middle, the two airlines would allow Qatar Airways better flexibility with its route network.

However, Ethiopian Airways in on a trajectory of rapid growth which will see it outgrow its current airport base and diversify its network. Ethiopia is also well located, similar to the Middle East, in the center of the globe. That makes it that bit easier to access all parts of the world.

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