Opening up to Africa

From Dakar to Algiers, the low-cost airline Transavia changes the game

By Nelly Fualdes

Posted on October 3, 2022 10:27

 Transavia’s entire fleet of 100 Boeing 737-800 aircraft will be replaced by A320 neos © Transavia
Transavia’s entire fleet of 100 Boeing 737-800 aircraft will be replaced by A320 neos © Transavia

On the verge of opening the Lyon-Dakar, Paris-Béjaïa and Nantes-Oran routes, the Air France subsidiary Transavia now devotes 30% of its capacity to Africa.

While airlines traditionally cut back after the summer season, Transavia France, a low-cost member of the Air France-KLM group, launched a new Paris-Sétif route on 14 September and will inaugurate its Paris-Bejaïa route on 1 October.

This will be followed by Nantes-Oran, Lyon-Bejaia and Lyon-Constantine to Algeria, while the airline will open its second Senegalese route, Lyon-Dakar, at the end of October.

A Nantes-Dakar route “beyond expectations”

Since May, the low-cost airline has been operating the Nantes-Dakar route, for which it had obtained traffic rights at the end of 2019 – on the ashes of the defunct Air Méditerranée – but whose launch was delayed by Covid. “This route has found its audience: our 189 seats are filled to more than 80%, which is very good for the first year and even exceeds our expectations,” says Nicolas Hénin, deputy general manager of Transavia France in charge of business development, whom we met at the IFTM-Top Résa show in Paris at the end of September.

Although this weekly route is still undergoing a test period, which is due to last one year, the opening of a second route from Lyon, still on a weekly basis, demonstrates the company’s satisfaction. It intends to juggle both an affinity clientele in high season and tourism during the winter period, by surfing on the theme of “winter sun”.

But it is the only one that will serve Nantes-Dakar directly, as Air Senegal has been operating the Lyon route since March 2021.

From 3 to 58 weekly flights in six months

Another major driver of the airline’s development is Algeria, where Transavia reported at the end of August that it had carried more than 100,000 passengers over the two summer months.

The company, which has obtained a majority of the traffic formerly operated by Aigle Azur from Paris and Lyon, had only operated a few flights in 2019. Then came Covid and the long closure of the country’s borders, after which “the expectation for this country was exceptional”, says Hénin, who evokes a sudden rise in power. “We went from 3 to 58 flights per week in six months, and even so, we are not quite at the level of exchanges provided for by the agreements [bilateral between France and Algeria],” he says.

With 14 routes between the two countries, Transavia is theoretically authorised to offer up to 70 flights per week. While he assures us that demand is still there at the beginning of this autumn, Hénin notes a return “to a certain normality”: “We are on 80 to 85% load factors, and prices are falling”, he tells us. “The fact that Transavia is doing so well despite giving up a part of its clientele [the company does not accept payments in dinars] is proof of the insane profitability of services between France and Algeria,” says one of the sector’s observers.

In Morocco, a slower start

Although the Air France subsidiary also says that it has recorded “a very good summer” on its 15 routes linking France to Tunisia – which it intends to reinforce next summer -, the resumption of demand towards Morocco has been “more gradual”, says Hénin.

Present in Agadir, Casablanca and Marrakech from several French cities, it also offers flights from Paris to destinations such as Fez, Ouarzazate, Oujda, Nador, Tangier, Rabat and Essaouira.

In all, African countries account for 30% of Transavia France’s network and capacity – while its parent company, Transavia Netherlands (part of the Air France-KLM group), offers a few routes between the Netherlands and Morocco. The French and Dutch branches combined, the low-cost airline, with nearly 100 aircraft, recorded a turnover of €850m during the first half of 2022, but an operating loss of €-18m, despite unit revenues above pre-crisis levels during the second quarter.

Transavia-Air France: “not the same clientele”

Hénin says that he is continuing to study the possibilities of new routes to the Maghreb and Senegal, but for the moment there is no question of the low-cost airline going beyond Dakar: “With Cape Verde, Senegal is at the limit of the distance we can offer with our Boeing 737-800s. And replacing all these A320 neo aircraft – which are partly owned and leased – will not change the situation. “There is still a lot to do in this range,” says Hénin.

Although the company does not offer the Dakar-Paris route, for which the rights are very limited and strictly divided between the two national companies, Air Senegal and Air France, it does propose common routes to the Maghreb with its parent company.

But Hénin refutes any internal competition within the group. “We complement Air France. We offer a 100% economy cabin, with only a few options such as the first row of the cabin or an additional baggage item. Our competitors are the other low-cost airlines because we have a different clientele to Air France.”

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