The initial A330neo for Air Senegal, named “Casamance,” was presented during a ceremony at Blaise-Diagne International Airport in Dakar attended by Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal (photo Airbus)

The Senegalese government has taken a drastic step to intervene in its aviation industry. But is this enough to protect the newcomer from the wide-reaching effects of the current crisis, or perhaps it should be left to the country’s free-market to right this shaky ship! Let’s explore.

Who are the main players in Senegalese aviation?

Senegal is a less represented country on the world aviation stage, but it still manages to hold a significant strategic location, the western African seaboard. Located south of Morroco, north of Central Western African states like Serra Leon and Liberia, and surrounding The Gambia, the country finds itself smack-bang in the middle of the region’s flight paths and controlling access to Europe and North America.

However, the country has plenty of challenges. With cheap and plentiful ground transport, the local domestic market has yet to bloom. Its international prospects struggle to offer a competitive advantage, especially considering the country’s main airport, Blaise Diagne International Airport is well connected to by foreign carriers. Dakar’s international airport (the one just mentioned) opened after a six year delay, but not a moment too soon for the country’s growing appetite for flying. It has a single long modern runway that can take everything up to an Airbus A380, as well as six gates and plenty of land around the site to expand in future years.

There are three other airports of note in the country (which when considering its size, is underdeveloped) all located on the other side of The Gambia. They are Cap Skirring Airport to the extreme south on the other side of The Gambia (an essential link to avoid a long road or shorter boat journey) on the coast, Ziguinchor Airport further inland, and lastly Kolda North Airport which is located to the southeast. This last airport is not served by the national carrier, but rather Transair (the country’s largest private airline).

Speaking of airlines, the country has three.

The biggest national flag carrier Air Senegal was founded in 2016, which specializes in scheduled flights between West Africa and Europe. It has a large range of destinations (nineteen in total, two of which are domestic) with a fleet of seven aircraft. But make no mistake, these are not older planes from forgotten airlines but rather cutting edge planes from Airbus such as the brand new A330neo and an order for eight A220s due next year.

“[They] will contribute to developing our long haul network to Europe and our regional network in Africa”, said CEO Ibrahima Kane at the Paris Air Show in 2019. The aircraft will be used for routes to London, Geneva, and Lagos to complement its network to France and Spain with the bigger A330neos “Combined with our recent A330neo aircraft, this new Airbus fleet reveals Air Senegal’s ambition to offer the best travel experience for our passengers.” With a fleet like this, Air Senegal is certainly set for success.

Next on the list is a carrier called Transair. They operate a few scheduled services and domestic flights across the region with its four aircraft fleet (two turboprops and two Embraer jet aircraft). They were slowly expanding before the pandemic and reached a destination list of twelve (focusing on the tourism niche) before being affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Before (the pandemic), we were expanding, we were even thinking about starting inter-continental flights in a few years,” Transair’s boss and founder, Alioune Fall, told AFP back in May. “Now everything’s come to a halt. When you have been doing three or four flights a day, and then it all suddenly stops, you have no idea what lies ahead.” 

The smallest is Arc en Ciel Airlines (formerly known as “Arc-en-Ciel Aviation” but it was rebranded earlier this year), which caters to charter flights and operates a small fleet of six turboprop aircraft. Originally founded for the oil industry, the carrier has also expanded into tourism charters like Transair and supply an essential on-demand medical service in remote areas.

What are the current government efforts?

The local government Minister of Tourism and Air Transport Alioune Sarr, via his official Twitter account, announced back in August that XOF77 billion ($120 million, 110 million euros) in investment will be made into both the aviation and tourism sectors to stem the losses from the Coronavirus crisis. Officially this stimulus is in place to support airlines, keep aviation jobs, and prepare the market for a bounce-back when travel resumes.

The funding has been split up in the following ways:

  • 45 billion for Air Senegal to keep 300 jobs and maintain all eight aircraft flight-ready.
  • 15 billion for other aviation firms and tourism businesses that rely on the airline industry
  • 12 billion for the coronavirus quarantine program (for hotels)
  • Five billion reserved for further state investment and state agencies
  • Lastly, the government has also suspended the tax for tourism and aviation sector companies.

Other airlines like Transair are not receiving direct stimulus (as they are private entities); however, they have low-interest loans and benefit from the suspended tax rules. Speaking in the same article, Transair’s CEO has said he has managed to keep 104 employees so far, but there is still a risk of bankruptcy in the future.

“This is why the planes are still flying,” he said. “Activity will pick up, starting within a minimal service.”

Speaking to France 24, Ibra Wane, a Senegalese consultant for IATA and owner of Arc-en-Ciel Aviation, warned that “bloody” days lay ahead.

“Budgets for business travel are going to be reduced, and tourism will shrink terribly. If (airline) companies do not scale back their operations and cut costs, they could disappear.”

Will this be enough for the airlines to survive?

Like many other nations, Senegal’s government is taking drastic action to save the airline industry and keep its small but still diverse aviation economy afloat. Only time will tell if this is enough and if the world returns to this humble nation. In the meantime, these airlines need to keep their aircraft in flight-ready conditions, and this requires support from a firm like Eways Aviation that understands the current market conditions. Eways Aviation has become the defacto AOG and MRO firm in the region and an important strategic partner for those firms preparing for a service return through working together and trust. If you would like support or need AOG services that understand local realities, get in touch today.