In what can only be described as well overdue and very welcome news, the oneworld alliance seems to be expanding.
The alliance had tended to be rather conservative than their other two counterparts amongst the biggest airline alliances in the world. Star Alliance perhaps can boast having some of the most ‘prestigous’ carriers in the world and have many partner airlines within the main alliance as well. SkyTeam has a great footprint on every inhabitable continent especially in important emerging markets such as China and East Africa.
Oneworld on the other hand has several gaping holes in their network – though China is covered through Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, they can’t really boast a mainland based major carrier. But Africa is the real problematic area for the alliance – it is a huge gaping hole for them with no real partner on the continent. This becomes especially jarring when Star Alliance has the three biggest airlines in Africa – Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways and EgyptAir. SkyTeam can follow up with the next biggest in Kenya Airways with their own KLM and Air France maintaining a sizeable footprint of their own on the continent. Oneworld has – well not a single carrier, and their existing services are rather limited with British Airways the only member offering any real services of note to Africa.
This is a problem for oneworld – especially in such an important market such as Africa, which hosts multiple fast emerging countries and where growth is forecasted to be the strongest within the next two to three decades.
That is, till now. The rumor mill is running and the signs are pointing towards a new entrant to oneworld from Africa.
According to unnamed sources that travel magazine Business Traveller have spoken to at IAG, the parent company of oneworld members British Airways and Iberia, the alliance has been “having talks that proceeding well and are approaching an advanced stage” with a so far unnamed African airline.
Thus far the airline’s identity is not known for sure but whispers are abound as to the identity of the said airline, and some candidates are popping up.
The problem is that oneworld is inexplicably late to the game. The three ‘premier’ and largest airlines in Africa by available seat kilometres flown have already been scooped up by Star – and the next best thing, Kenya Airways – is already very strongly in bed with SkyTeam. So suffice to say, it’s slim pickings for oneworld.
At the moment Royal Air Maroc – the national government owned carrier of Morocco – is said to be the clear front runner. They have a rather extensive network through the Maghreb and through to the Middle East with a respectable presence at most notable African capitals. They also boast a good safety record and an admirable fleet expansion plan with involves NextGen 737s for regional flying and various 787s for medium to long haul flying. The airline has an excellent presence in Europe, especially France (understandable given cultural ties) and flies as far as New York JFK and Montreal so opportunities for connections are good. They will only get better with the airline’s CEO recently stating the airline’s intentions to start services to India and the Far East. This will mould in nicely with a potential oneworld membership should it come to fruition.
Comair, a South African based subsidiary of British Airways has also been touted as a potential regional partner for oneworld. Given their parent company’s heavy involvement in oneworld, this wouldn’t come as a surprise but also wouldn’t have much of a footprint in Africa given their very limited network mostly consisting of regional flights around South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland.
The other rumours are that the new entrant could even be a low cost carrier or LLC – the alliance is desperate to expand their presence not only in Africa but in India and China – and so they are also looking into LCC’s with reputable record to partner with. Currently Business Traveller’s sources indicate that Mango Airlines of South Africa are the lead contender. Based in Johannesburg, the airline has an extensive network across South Africa and the southern African region and operate new 737 aircraft.
None of these have been confirmed of course, but sources are saying that a major announcement about oneworld and Africa is imminent, and these are the top contenders for the role to fill as oneworld’s airline on the continent.
Great news for oneworld travelers. The African market has long been perplexingly neglected by oneworld. For folks based in China doing business in Africa – and those numbers aren’t insignificant and actually represent a very big portion of Emirates’ high yielding Business and First traffic on their China and Africa flights – this should come as a welcome announcement. Of course oneworld has Qatar Airways that does offer similar connections but to far fewer destinations that what Emirates offers.
But the real jump here is access to the continent for oneworld fliers from the United States. As it stands, there’s no non stop link from America to Africa on oneworld – both Star (through United), South African Airways, EgyptAir and Ethiopian) and SkyTeam (through Delta) offer this which represents a massive competitive disadvantage for the alliance. Even connecting through Europe presents challenges given the trial and tribulations of BA’s London Heathrow hub. Iberia’s token presence in Africa isn’t enough to compensate for this.
Though Royal Air Maroc isn’t an ideal carrier per se, it’s a definite positive first step and let’s face it – reliable options for alliance membership are few and far between in Africa. Given the airline’s plans to expand both eastwards and to the Americas, this represents a great opportunity to dovetail well with oneworld’s ambitions in Africa.
Smaller players such as Mango or Comair also help the cause if oneworld can snag them as they do connect some dots in lucrative markets in Southern Africa.
Either way, one can’t fault oneworld for finally making the foray into Africa, whichever their first airline partner on the continent is.
Much overdue, but always welcome nonetheless.
Are you a one-worlder who’s excited about this? Do you have any inside knowledge on just who this new mystery player might be?? Guesses at least? Let us know below!
Featured image credit: oneworld