Embraer: Taking hold of Africa’s growth potential

Feb 19th, 2013

As Africa harnesses the growth potential in short-haul airline service, Embraer continues to make inroads into the continent’s rising aviation sector. This comes at a time when the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer sets plans to establish a service centre in Kenya amid growing orders for its regional jet offerings. Although Boeing and Airbus retain the lion’s share of fleet numbers in the region, a hike in aircraft lease expenses for African carriers combined with a number of cost competitive advantages have driven further orders for Embraer’s ERJ-145 and E-Jet family offerings. Indeed, the marketing presence forged by its 110 Brasilia over the past decade has no doubt instilled a healthy interest among African carriers given its lower variable costs and reputation for reliability.

Current fleet numbers for Embraer aircraft in Africa stand at 124, including 38 ERJs and 30 E-Jets with a further nine on order. While marginal on a global scale, Embraer has sought the potential offered by the region’s aviation sector, which is expected to soar on the back of solid economic growth and a rising consumer market driving the need for greater business and leisure travel. Despite a population of 973 million and the burgeoning growth of certain economies in Africa, the aviation sector continues to remain largely untapped. Precisely, it is noted that medium density markets for 70 to 120 seat aircraft in the region are either underserved or are devoid of air services entirely. In line with this, Embraer forecasts a need for a further 230 new and 150 pre-owned aircraft in this segment, seeing the expansion of its African fleet to 400 by 2028. However, despite the potential that exists, growth is constrained owing to the financial malaise affecting a considerable share of airlines in Africa.

The crash of a Dana Air flight in Nigeria last year garnered wide notoriety and undoubtedly had its place in driving up lease payments for aircraft in the country

It’s no secret that major aircraft leasing firms generally charge a risk premium on African leases, citing issues over re-delivery and contractual compliance. The crash of a Dana Air flight in Nigeria last year garnered wide notoriety and undoubtedly had its place in driving up lease payments for aircraft in the country. For instance, the lease price of a Boeing 737-500 before the accident averaged $120,000 – now it attracts $200,000 per month. The impact is even more profound on new generation aircraft with increases upwards of 75 percent for a standard narrow-body lease. The high-risk assessment of many African nations, combined with the current economic climate has fostered an unsustainable environment for many carriers as they struggle to cope with a hike in lease payments. Such circumstances may indeed serve well for Embraer, with lower list prices, an enhanced market presence and the push by Brazil to boost trade with the continent all increasing the attractiveness of its regional jets with airlines and government bodies alike,’ comments Zilvinas Sadauskas, CEO of Locatory.com.

Embraer ERJ-145s and E-Jets have so far sought favour with a number of airlines throughout the continent. Carriers including EgyptAir Express, Kenya Airways, LAM Mozambique, South African Airlink and Petro Air have either submitted orders or are currently operating Embraer aircraft. Moreover, the growing orders witnessed last year are part of a wider drive to improve aircraft age and inefficiency concerns plaguing a variety of African carriers. At current, the average fleet age in the region is 15 years, with roughly 30 percent older than 20 years. However, it is predicted that by 2028, only 13 percent of the present fleet will still be in service. In line with this, Embraer claim to be sighting further growth prospects with existing customers in the region as well as chasing further buyers, including such operators as Air Senegal International.

In the wider scheme, the future of African airlines remains somewhat tentative owing to competition from European and Gulf based carriers. Open sky agreements and the economies of scale pertinent to these carriers allow access to more markets, competitive prices and the provision of seamless international connections to destinations within Africa. This in turn reduces the competitiveness of local airlines, which in many cases are restricted by regulations and the capacity to fly to only a limited number of European destinations.

Z. Sadauskas, CEO of Locatory.com, states that, ‘Despite this hindrance, there remains wide growth avenues for short to medium haul airline service within Africa – a market aptly tailored for Embraer jets. We are seeing this already with the emergence of new carriers, particularly in the low cost segment. However, with such changes underway, the regional supply for aircraft maintenance and spare parts distribution continues to lag behind. In order to sustain an open aftermarket and do away with a legacy of failed start-up operations, one key challenge for African aviation as it currently stands is to develop a common platform promoting greater inter-communication among market players.’

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