Africa is huge! Being the second-largest and the second-most populous continent following Asia, Africa is home to 1.3 billion people and it is a leading tourism destination with its long and rich history and fascinating nature, despite what many people think about the continent.
Due to many countries in Africa having underdeveloped road and rail networks as a result of monetary issues, the continent’s geography and climate problems, airline companies have multiplied in size and travelling by air has become more and more widespread over the years.
Although Africa is behind the rest of the world when it comes to aviation and many Africa-based airline companies keep underperforming when compared to their counterparts based in Asia, Europe or the Americas, aviation in the continent still has a huge impact in people’s lives.
Amounting to tens of billions of dollars in commercial activity and creating millions of job opportunities for the people, aviation in Africa has great significance and is expected to grow in size as the continent’s population is estimated to have doubled to 2.3 billion by the year 2050.
With the projected population growth in the continent and increasing business opportunities, Africa might start a new chapter when it comes to aviation and we may begin to see airline companies emerging from Africa and reaching international significance. Bearing all that in mind, let’s see the largest airlines in Africa and learn more about them.
Ethiopian Airlines started its operations on the 8th of April 1946 with its main airport located in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. At first the company only provided domestic flights and in 1951 it expanded its operations into international flights.
Usually referred to as Ethiopian, the company is completely owned by the country’s government. With a fleet size of almost 130 aircraft and destinations more than 120 Ethiopian lives up to its slogan “The New Spirit of Africa”
Headquartered in Cairo International Airport, EgyptAir was founded in 1932 and has begun its operations in July 1933. The state owned airline company operates in over 70 destinations with more than 60 aircraft and 9,000 employees.
EgyptAir is a Star Alliance member and is the second largest airline company based in the African continent.
Royal Air Maroc
Morocco’s largest airline company, Royal Air Maroc is also the 3rd largest African airline company. It was founded on 1957 with merely a handful of aircraft comprised of six Sud-Ouest Bretagnes, four Curtiss C-46 Commandos, five Douglas DC-3s and two SNCASE SE.161 Languedocs. Now the company has nearly 60 aircraft and operates in 103 destinations.
Royal Air Maroc provides domestic flights in Morocco and international flights to Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America as well as Hajj services from time to time.
South African Airways
South African Airways is headquartered in Johannesburg and was founded on the 1st of February, 1934. With a relatively small fleet size of 12 aircraft, the company operates in over 50 domestic and international destinations in six continents.
Its subsidiaries include Mango Airlines, SAA Cargo, SAA Technical and Air Chefs.
The 5th largest airline company in Africa is Kenya Airways with its head office located in Embakasi, Nairobi and main hub as Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Owned solely by the Kenyan Government until April 1995, the company was privatised in 1996.
Kenya Airways was founded in 1977 and has been a member of African Airlines Association ever since its creation as well as joining SkyTeam in June 2010.
The company has 40 aircraft and continues its operation in more than 50 destinations with its number of employees reaching almost 4,000.
Tunisair was founded in 1948 and now it operates flights to 101 destinations in four continents with its fleet of nearly 30 aircraft. Its main base is Tunis–Carthage International Airport, located in Tunis, the capital and the largest city of Tunisia.
The company is mostly owned by the Tunisian Government.
With its head office in its capital city, Algiers, Air Algérie is the national airline of Algeria. The company was founded on the 15th of March, 1947 and now operates in 75 destinations with its fleet of 56 aircraft and over 9,000 employees.
Air Algérie is in the process of becoming a SkyTeam member starting a partnership with Lufthansa, the largest German airline company.
The 8th largest airline company of Africa is Arik Air, the Nigerian airline company operating primarily in two hubs located in Lagos and Abuja. Arik Air has a fleet of 21 aircraft and operates in 16 destinations.
The company is rather young, it was founded in 2002 and has started its operations on 30th of October 2006 and it provides regional and mid-haul flights in Africa.
Air Mauritius is the flag carrier airline company of Mauritius. It was founded on the 14th of June, 1967 and started its operations in August 1972.
Its main hub is Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport that is located in the capital city Port Louis. Air Mauritius has a fleet of 13 aircraft and continues its operations in 22 destinations.
Entirely owned by the Government of Libya, Libyan Airlines was founded in September 1964 and commenced operations the following year.
With a fleet of 14 aircraft, Libyan Airlines operates in 22 destinations and the company also provides Hajj services.
Africa is a large continent with relatively underdeveloped road and rail networks that makes travelling by air crucial to the local people. Although lagging behind in aviation technology and infastructure compared to other continents, African airline companies are still a force to be reckoned with.
All of them operating both domestic and international flights, largest airline companies in Africa can be listed as Ethiopian Airlines, EgyptAir, Royal Air Maroc and South African Airways.
Last but not least, Africa is predicted to see substantial growth in the following years so we may start seeing more companies being added to the list.
Anon. (n.d.), Africa, Wikipedia, Retrieved 24 February 2021 < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africa >
CAPA – Centre for Aviation Editor (6 December 2019), Africa Aviation Outlook 2020: Performance lags, pending integration, CAPA – Centre for Aviation, Retrieved 24 February 2021 < https://centreforaviation.com/analysis/airline-leader/africa-aviation-outlook-2020-performance-lags-pending-integration-504774 >
Anon. (n.d.), List of largest airlines in Africa, Wikipedia, Retrieved 24 February 2021 < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_airlines_in_Africa >
Steve Boyes (October 31, 2013), Getting to Know Africa: 50 Interesting Facts…, National Geographic, Retrieved 24 February 2021 < https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2013/10/31/getting-to-know-africa-interestingfacts/ >
Anon. (n.d.), Lufthansa, Wikipedia, Retrieved 24 February 2021 < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lufthansa >
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