Air traffic from key Chinese hubs to Africa has exploded over the last seven years, with direct flights between the regions rising from three in 2006 to 1,555 in 2013.
The vast increase in capacity belies China’s extensive economic interests in resource-rich Africa, although Chinese airlines have yet to launch direct services of their own.
Flightglobal’s Capstats database shows that African carriers will provide 477,000 seats of outbound capacity from China to Africa in 2013, a 28% increase over 2012. Growth was even greater in 2012, when outbound capacity surged 60% to 373,000 seats.
Capacity share on China-Africa direct routes, November 2013
Data from FlightMaps Analytics shows the two dominant routes are Beijing-Addis Ababa and Guangzhou-Addis Ababa. Star Alliance member Ethiopian Airlines is the sole carrier on both routes, operating a monthly capacity of 9,630 seats on each sector with Boeing 777-200LR aircraft.
Ethiopian accounts for 58% of total direct capacity between China and Africa, followed by Kenya Airways (12%), Air Mauritius (8.9%) and South African Airways (8.4%), Air Madagascar (5.7%), Air Algerie (4.8%), and Angola flag carrier TAAG (2.5%).
Direct flights between China and Africa, November 2013
Air China has exposure to African routes through codeshares with Star Alliance partners Ethiopian and South African Airways. In December 2011, Air China chairman Kong Dong told Flightglobal Pro that the carrier was considering its own direct services to Africa, but it has yet make any announcement to this effect.
China Southern has codeshare agreements with Kenya Airways, providing access to Nairobi via the African carrier’s services to Dubai and Bangkok.
Possibly the best option for Chinese travellers destined for Africa is a transit in either the United Arab Emirates or Qatar, where they can board aircraft bound for over 20 destinations across the African continent.
In the longer term, the introduction of long-range aircraft optimised for long, thin routes such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 will better enable Chinese operators to provide direct service into Africa.
China to Africa via Persian Gulf, November 2013