I left Nairobi on Saturday. The airport surprised me with several improvements since last year. It has better organized control posts to enter the airport area, a world-class extension to Terminal 1, more eating facilities, etc. Security controls are extensive: I went through 3 screenings! Clearly, they don’t want to take risks. Who knows if all of this is in preparation for Obama’s visit next month. In any case, let’s welcome the improvements!
Nairobi airport has an important advantage over others in African territory. It’s 5-hours distance from essentially anywhere on the continent. This means Nairobi is a potential hub for Africa.
We’re quite used to the hub-and-spoke system for organizing long-distance flights. We may not like it when we have to wait more than two hours for our connecting flight – but the alternative of having direct flights between all pairs of cities currently connected through a hub would be prohibitively expensive.
With exceptions, direct flights between African cities are either non-existent or very costly. In most cases, it’s more affordable to connect two African cities through a hub in Europe – clearly, not an optimal system. African airlines are starting conversations about creating alliances and their own hub-and-spoke system – so I learned in a conversation with a top manager at Kenya Airways. If this happens, travel in Africa will improve significantly. In turn, doing business there will be easier. Right now, business travel can get quite complicated there. An improved air transport infrastructure will “reduce” the geographic distance across countries, and have a positive impact on cross-border trade and business.
Hopefully these changes will happen. It will require cooperation from the African airlines. While in the future there may be space for more than one African transport hub (e.g., one in East and one in West Africa), it’s important to start the process soon. If airlines were to stall because they all want their home base to serve as the hub, the system might never get implemented. A focus on the benefits of having one transport hub relative to the current situation should push them to reach agreement.
Any thoughts on the potential of African airline alliances?