Changi playing catch-up in wooing African carriers

Before Ethiopian Airlines came to Changi last week, it was already landing at rival airports in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Hong Kong.

The launch of three flights a week from the carrier's home in the capital city Addis Ababa to Singapore provides an important link between Changi Airport and fast-growing Africa.

The 13-hour service to Singapore is operated via Bangkok with a one-hour transit.

It is a "critical" addition to Changi's network, said analyst Brendan Sobie from the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. However he added that Singapore has "fallen behind" other Asian hubs in attracting African carriers.

Prior to the launch of Ethiopian Airlines' service, Changi Airport was served by just one African carrier - Air Mauritius - industry observers pointed out.

Meanwhile, Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi and Hong Kong airport are each served by six. The gap could be due to the higher cost of operating here, compared to Bangkok, for example, as well as Changi's focus on growing the Asia-Pacific market in recent years, industry analysts said.

Changi spokesman Ivan Tan said it has invested "significant" resources in the last three years to cultivate the Africa-Asia market. Apart from being in constant touch with Ethiopian Airlines, the airport recently launched a partnership with South African Tourism and Singapore Airlines to promote travel to South Africa.

Airlines make route decisions based on factors such as aircraft availability and partnerships with other carriers, he said.

Mr Sobie added that Singapore has the potential to overtake Bangkok as the region's key hub for Asia-Africa traffic.

"Thailand- Africa is small," he said. "But African carriers use Bangkok as a gateway to the rest of Asia."

African carriers could leverage the Changi hub by offering connections throughout the Asia- Pacific region, he said.

Singapore Airlines spokesman Nicholas Ionides said the carrier will continue to assess opportunities in Africa. It currently offers daily flights to Johannesburg in South Africa and from there to Cape Town four times a week. SIA also serves Egyptian capital Cairo via Dubai.

Apart from its own flights, the Singapore carrier has a codeshare deal with Ethiopian Airlines.

This means, for example, that a passenger holding an SIA ticket can fly from here to Ethiopia and from there connect to other intra-Africa flights operated by the African airline.

Changi's Mr Tan said: "We believe that there is still room for us to forge stronger air links with Africa and we will continue to pursue this market aggressively."

The team is also focusing on other emerging and fast-growing markets such as Russia, Central Asia and South America, he said.

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