Africa’s airline industry has seen some rocky times — for decades, its air safety record was a source of serious concern, and poor access to capital made initial investment and further expansion difficult for many eager entrepreneurs. Even after some carriers seemed to have found their feet, several of the biggest names plunged into bankruptcy, including Ghana, Nigeria and Zambia Airways. But over recent years, the continent has finally established itself, with global airline alliances chasing partners in Africa and a new family of primarily state-owned carriers — South African, Kenya and Ethiopian — leading from the front by example. All these names figured in the World Airline Awards’ 2014 round-up of the five best airlines on the continent, as voted for by passengers themselves.
5. Kenya Airways
Kenya Airways, like its fierce competitor Ethiopian Airlines (which it won’t be pleased to see ranking higher on this list), is among the leading carriers in the Sub-Saharan region. Founded in 1977, it was wholly owned by the Kenyan government until it was privatized in 1996 — the only African carrier to have successfully moved into the private sector at the time. These days it is owned as a public-private partnership with the Kenyan government holding the biggest share, a balance that seems to be serving the airline’s interests very effectively.
4. Ethiopian Airlines
Ethiopia’s flag carrier is a pretty big beast by the standards of Africa’s airline industry. Headquartered in Addis Ababa, it flies to 82 passenger destinations around the world, including more in Africa than any other carrier. It continues to expand rapidly and is frequently viewed as a success story to be emulated by other airlines operating in the challenging Sub-Saharan market. Its achievements, encapsulated by a frequently high ranking in this annual summary of the continent’s best airlines, are precisely what Emperor Haile Selassie hoped for when he called for the airline’s creation following the liberation of Ethiopia in the 1940s.
3. Air Seychelles
A relatively young airline, Air Seychelles only began operating international flights in 1983 and received its first Boeing 707 in 1989. Even then, its range of destinations remained fairly small, focusing — beyond Africa — on a handful of European destinations such as Madrid and Manchester from its secondary hub at Charles de Gaulle Airport. But in 2012, the airline blew its horizons open by selling a 40% share to Etihad, and passengers can now fly all over the world via connections in Abu Dhabi. This business move has by all accounts been a great success, as evidenced by the carrier’s strong performance in the 2014 World Airline Awards.
2. Air Mauritius
Air Mauritius is a small airline operating from the far-flung yet multicultural island of Mauritius, which lies east of Madagascar out in the Indian Ocean. With a fleet of only 12 craft operating from such a remote location, the airline has excelled since its 1967 launch through a collaboration between Air France, British Airways and the Mauritian government. As well as coming second in the World Airline Awards 2014 ranking of African airlines, it has won the World Travel Awards’ Indian Ocean’s Leading Airline prize for the previous ten consecutive years
1. South African Airways
Topping the awards’ round-up of the region’s best airlines is the national flag carrier of South Africa, South African Airways. Headquartered at OR Tambo International Airport in Gauteng, the airline flies to 38 destinations worldwide, including several it was previously banned from. Indeed, the airline’s position marks a remarkable turnaround from its days as a “pariah airline” during the apartheid era, when its offices were attacked and numerous countries, including the US and Australia, ended all flights operated by the airline. Its success in the 2014 World Airline Awards just underscores how successful the airline’s post-apartheid renaissance has been.
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