It was recently reported among the aviation circles that Kenya Airways (IATA:KQ), is intending to launch flights to Sao Paulo, Brazil, from December 2011. At first sight, this may sound like an odd route for an Eastern African carrier to start. But why does it make sense? Let's find out.
Brazil is now one of the world's fastest growing economies, and Sao Paulo is undoubtedly one of the Latin America's fastest growing airports. There is a considerable amount of Brazilian investing in the African countries, and the connectivity between Brazil and Africa as well as Asia has been very minimal. This is where KQ is probably planing to capture its target market from. And it is a worthy goal.
Kenya Airways presently has a strong presence in the Far East. However, this alone would not be sufficient. To make this route a success, it would be of utmost importance for KQ to provide fast connections to its Asian destinations - particularly Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Mumbai - with the Sao Paulo flight.
Why Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Mumbai? Because these cities, parts of the emerging BRIC nations, will have increasing needs to stay connected. And there are not many airlines who do the same. Apart from Emirates and Qatar Airways, there is virtually no other airline which connects these cities with Brazil easily. And this is where KQ can carve a niche for itself.
Lets take the example of Hong Kong. The great circle distance (with the real airway distance always higher) of connecting Hong Kong with Sao Paulo via Doha, Dubai and Nairobi are 18,159km, 18,147km and 18,017km respectively. With Oceanic airways tending to have less traffic, and KQ is likely to offer the quickest flight time between HKG and GRU - even though it would be a marginal amount. Although Nairobi may not have the shiny facilities of Dubai or Doha, Kenya Airways can still manage to gain a considerable market share by pricing creatively.
But that's not all. Kenya Airways will be the preferred choice for any passenger visiting Eastern Africa from Brazil. Catering to this traffic, while stimulating tourist traffic will help KQ to gain a stronghold in this market which is set to become very lucrative in the future. Providing quick connections to its Asian and African destinations, creative pricing and good enough marketing should make filling the Sao Paulo flights an easy task for the airline. The growing economical ties between Brazil and Africa, and among the BRIC countries, will likely help this flight's yield to remain at a good level.
Kenya Airways presently has a long haul fleet complementing of four Boeing 777-200ERs and six Boeing 767-300ERs. Of these two aircraft, only the 777 has the range to comfortably complete the 9,200km+ Nairobi - Sao Paulo flight year-round (and even the 777 could incur a penalty on some days, due to Nairobi's high altitude location). However, with all the four 777s active around KQ's network at present, the only solution for the airline would be to either downgauge some routes to the smaller 767 or to add an extra 777.
The challenges for this route would be plenty, but so would be the long term benefits of gaining a share from this lucrative market. Nevertheless, if KQ continues with the launch, and how it would turn out for them, would be an interesting thing to watch.Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.