ByMichael Otieno

The truth behind low-cost carriers

fastjetIn the recent past, we have been hearing about how air travel and connectivity within the region is getting better through low-cost or budget carriers.

However, don’t go into a celebratory mood just yet.

A spot check on the website of a recently launched low-cost carrier put the one-way fare between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam at approximately Ksh8,000 ($80).

The same search done, with the same exact parameters, on the website of a full-service carrier revealed a fare of Ksh8,895 ($89). So, if by name alone “low-cost carrier” should imply travel cost savings, why isn’t that benefit evident?


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ByMichael Otieno

Why you need to get travel insurance

travelinsuranceFor followers of travel news, 2010 witnessed one of the most disruptive incidents of all time. A single volcanic eruption in Iceland closed most of Europe’s skies. About 19,000 flights were cancelled each day, with over 10 million people stranded. Emerging market currencies closely tied to tourism, like the Kenya shilling and Turkish lira, fell.

Some 30 per cent of total worldwide airline capacity was cut: European capacity by 75 per cent, Africa by 30 per cent, the Middle East by 20 per cent, and the rest of the world by 15 per cent. Of the affected passengers, it would be interesting to know how many had travel insurance to cover such an eventuality.


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Condor Airlines launches direct flights from Munich to Mombasa

downloadMombasa Wednesday 22nd June 2016: Kenya Airports Authority in conjunction with the Kenya Tourism Board this morning welcomed the inaugural Condor Airlines flight from Munich to Mombasa’s Moi International Airport. The weekly flight operated on a Boeing 767-300 will make it possible for passengers to have a direct flight between Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa and Munich in Germany.

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ByMichael Otieno

Flyer miles: Are they worth it?

ffpcardsThere is a famous story in the frequent flyer circles about a man who torn between spending New Year’s eve with family and attaining the highest level of recognition on an airline, chooses the latter and goes on a trans-Atlantic flight.

He attains the million miles status and gets a lifetime offer of free flights on the carrier; arguably the highest level of recognition the airline could give to a loyal customer.


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ByMichael Otieno

Direct Flights vs. Indirect Flights: The Pros and Cons

flightcompareIf you are a frequent flyer to the scenic South African city of Cape Town, you must have been thrilled at the recent Kenya Airways announcement of direct flights from Nairobi to Cape Town. The flights, to commence on July 1, will be operated thrice a week via Livingstone, Zambia.

The direct flights will bring an end to the hassle of having to transit via other connecting points currently, your top three options to Cape Town from Nairobi are: Via Johannesburg by KQ, via Johannesburg on South African Airways and via Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines.

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ByMichael Otieno

Why cabin safety matters above all

Cabin_SafetyEarlier this year an aviation writer for The Economist started off his commentary by saying “Africa is ripe for air travel.” True, air travel in Africa is on the rise. And with this come the issues of airport and aircraft safety and most important, in-flight safety.

Aviation is probably one of the few service sectors where the proverbial “customer is king” phrase does not entirely apply. Actually, this is always subject to the safety and wellbeing of the passengers first. This where the airline crew comes in.


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ByMichael Otieno

How airlines compute air fares

airplaneseatWhy do fares to the same destination and sometimes on the same flight vary?

On a recent regional flight from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi an interesting conversation taking place on the row behind me made me want to turn around and join in but due travel fatigue and the prospect of a stiff neck, I decided to wait it out and peacefully eavesdrop.

Notably irked that what he paid for his ticket, was higher than what his sitting companion paid, passenger X was not relenting in his curses and tirade of not so pleasant things to say about the airline. And because such misfortunes don’t come singly, they made him pay a penalty and some excess baggage fee. Dar es Salaam to Nairobi is only an hour twenty minutes by flight but this was a long one.

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ByMichael Otieno

Ever traveled by air and arrived without your bags?

Baggage on beltYour service contract with any airline you choose to travel with is pretty simple; to deliver you and your baggage to the destination of your choice safely, preferably together. There have been or there will be those anxious moments when your baggage has not or will not arrive with you at that destination. It gets more complicated when you are on international travel.

You have either felt or will feel even more aggravated when that airline of choice remains aloof and unresponsive amid your frustration and mad rants about how you will never fly with them again since your baggage is lost/delayed.

 Here is a glimpse into what you should know about your service contract with an airline when you purchase a ticket. 

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Why young African airlines need to invest in owned aircraft fleet

Current Issues

As airlines take delivery of new aircraft, owners must be found for second-hand aircraft. In the past, airlines from developing economies have taken these, which has created a natural flow of ownership. This is changing as new and smaller airlines place orders for new aircraft direct with manufacturers, often taking advantage of Export Credit Agency (ECA) finance. This, together with concerns of oversupply of some aircraft types, particularly narrow body, could put aircraft values and lease rates under pressure.

These factors could have a significant impact on the demand for the second- hand fleet going forward. If values of aircraft are driven down, this could raise questions around financing these older aircraft, even if there is a willing customer, as the risk of financing such aircraft increases.

Aviation finance could provide an attractive opportunity to deploy large amounts of capital efficiently in ‘hard assets’.

Why invest in aviation financing?

  • Deploys large amounts of capital efficiently.
  • Relatively predictable returns although residual values, especially for older aircraft, can be volatile.
  • Aircraft – the underlying asset – is truly global in its recognition and usage.
  • Investment typically secured by a ‘hard asset’, supported by International regulations such as the Cape Town Treaty.
  • Highly mobile asset – helps with reclaiming and redeploying the asset in case of a default.

Direct Purchase vs. Operating Lease

We come across many governments and airlines in Africa struggling with fleet acquisition modalities and mulling over fleet financing alternatives. There has been an unending debate on which is the most suitable operating model; whether direct purchase or operating lease. When I first heard the phrase “if it flies or floats you should rent it” I though it was funny, that aside, the methods used for financing the purchase of or operating an aircraft are through Direct Purchase, or through an Operating Lease either or both options come with financing options.

Direct Purchase with Financing

In a direct purchase arrangement for commercial planes, the prospective operator or airline purchases the aircraft direct from the manufacturer or vendor, using a secured or unsecured loan or structured finance lease. Usually, a syndicate of banks come together to raise the required loan amount. The loan amount advanced for the aircraft can vary from 70% up to 90% (or even 100%, but rarely, and heavily dependent on the borrowers’ profile) of the value of the aircraft depending on the airline, profile of its guarantors and its available capital. In cases where the financiers put in less than 100% of the aircraft value, the manufacturer or vendor expects the purchaser to make the pre-purchase deposits. Most financing arrangements usually come with a term limit (up to 12 years) accompanied by mortgage style amortization and either fixed or floating interest rates.

Should an airline decide to go for direct purchase of an aircraft, there are several advantages for the buyer mainly;

  1. The airline/buyer acquires equity in fleet;
  2. The airline/buyer has full control over the configuration of the aircraft;
  3. Airline is able to gain significant taxation benefits (this can vary by country)
  4. Airline/buyer will experience increased operational flexibility.

On the other hand, there exits some disadvantages of direct purchase key of which are;

  1. There are restrictions included in loan agreements and term sheets;
  2. The financing agreement obligations heavily weighs down a company’s balance sheet;
  3. Residual value risk.

 Operating Lease

In an operating lease arrangement, the lessor acquires the aircraft from the manufacturer having made all the advance payments and financing arrangements for the aircraft at delivery. The operator/lessee, in this case a commercial airline will then leases the aircraft from the lessor. Aircraft is usually leased out at approximately 1% of the new aircraft cost per month as rental, however demand for the aircraft type, supply, operating environment and region of deployment are some other factors that lessors take into account during pricing. Monthly rentals aside, most lessors will ask 2 -3 months equivalent of rental fee in security deposit and maintenance reserves costs.

Nearly all lease agreements have a minimum lease period of 3 years to a maximum of 7 years for narrow body aircraft and a longer lease period can be expected for a wide body aircraft. In most cases at the end of the lease period airline/lessee returns the aircraft to the lessor. However, an airline may have option to renew lease or purchase aircraft at fair market value.

While the key benefit of operating lease is the huge reduction in capital investment required, other positive factors include;

  1. The lessor assumes aircraft residual value risk;
  2. Lead time to aircraft delivery for airline/lessee to start operation is short compared to purchase from manufacturer where this a waiting period of at least 9 months;
  3. The liability stays off balance sheet, having less impact of banking restrictions;
  4. Leases increase fleet plan flexibility.

Some of the shortcomings with leasing are;

  1. Lessee/airline remains exposed to lease rate fluctuations;
  2. Lessor is at liberty to impose restrictions on aircraft usage;
  3. Airline is obliged satisfy lease contract requirements (administrative, reporting, maintenance);
  4. Airline has no equity in fleet.
ByMichael Otieno

Digital Marketing: Are African airlines doing enough?

airlinedigitalmarketingIf you are a Chief Marketing Officer for an airline in Africa, there are many reasons why we should expect your marketing plans to have moved from the limited-in-reach and expensive traditional avenues such as brochures, magazines, billboards, print, radio, television etc to include digital marketing avenues as a key component of your communication planning.

With shrinking margins, non existent profit, ever increasing operating costs, cost of aircraft lease/purchase, world fuel prices beyond airline control etc how does an airline “spare” more funds for digital marketing?.

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