Which is the Biggest Airline in Africa?

First there was the British Airways-Iberia merger that formed the third biggest airline in the World flying 62 million passengers to 205 destinations with a fleet of 419 but then, the crowning glory of all airline deals, the United-Continental merger came along that will see the emergence of the world’s largest airline flying to 370 destinations with 10 hubs worldwide, with a workforce of 90,000 and flying over 163 million passengers every year(In 2009 United Airlines flew 101 million pax and Continental Airlines flew over 62 million pax)!


I was tweeting a few weeks ago when a user asked me a ‘simple’ question: Which is the biggest airline in Africa? Ever wondered?So how do you measure how big an airline is? Do we use the number of routes? Number of scheduled passengers flown? Scheduled passenger miles? Size of fleet? Number of Staff? Amount of Revenues? Or size of planes?

A week ago, I was trying to determine the safest airlines in Africa and it took me two days analyzing accidents and fatalities data from 1995 (which have no relationship with the probability that the airline will have an accident in the near future hence unsafe); then adding a qualitative measure of IATA’s IOSA Certification to come up with the famous list; there is no consensus in the aviation industry about what really constitutes safety data. 

So what about size? All the listed methods can be used, albeit in variations, except of course plane size, and number of staff! We can also use revenue to determine the richest airline! Journalists are always quick to point out the “largest airline” or “one of the largest airlines” without telling their readers what makes the airline big! Since for an airline, air travel is a matter of taking as many passengers as possible to as many destinations as possible, a common measure of the size of an airline is by looking at the number of routes serviced and number of scheduled passengers flown for a particular year. These will in turn influence size of fleet, amount of revenue, size of staff almost in a proportional way.

Looking at European and American carriers, African “giants” like South African Airways, Kenya Airways, TAAG Angola, TunisAir, Ethiopian Airlines and Egypt Air look like tiny dwarfs! But this should not surprise us given that Africa accounts for a “paltry” 3% of global passenger traffic. Aviation in Africa has always been described as a jungle of lions and antelopes. So who amongst these is the Lion of the Jungle?
 Biggest Airlines in Africa Based On 2009 Passenger Numbers

1. South African Airways: “The Gateway to Africa”! Africa’s former ‘pariah’ airline carried 9.85 million     passengers in 2009 to 81 destinations.(includes low cost subsidiaries)
2. Egypt Air:”InshaAllah Airlines”(If God Wills Airlines) carried 8.2 million passengers in 2009 to 76 destinations.
3. Air Algerie:Algeria’s national airline carried 7.72 million passengers to 68 destinations.
4. TunisAir:Tunisia’s national airline carried 3.78 million passengers to 53 destinations
5. Ethiopian Airlines:” The New Spirit of Africa”, ambitious and impatiently waiting for it first African Dreamliner carried 2.8 million passengers to 54 destinations.
6. Kenya Airways:”The Pride of Africa” carried 2.6 millon passengers to 47 destinations.
7. Atlas Blue: Morocco’s budget airline carried 1.6 million passengers to 25 destinations.
8.Air Mauritius: Carried 1.2 million passengers to 26 detinations.
9. TAAG Angola:Carried 1,000,000 passengers in 2009 to 33 destinations.
10.Libyan Airlines: Carried 890,000 passengers to 27 destinations.
Biggest Airlines in Africa Based on Current Number of Destinations


1. South African Airways
2. Egypt Air
3. Air Algerie
4. Ethiopian Airlines
5. TunisAir     
6. Kenya Airways
7. TAAG Angola
8. Libyan Airlines
9. Air Mauritius
10. Atlas Blue 
 Biggest Airlines in Africa Based on Size of Fleet (Excl pending orders)

1. South African Airways
2. Egypt Air
3. Air Algerie
4. Ethiopian Airlines
5. TunisAir
6. Kenya Airways
7. Air Mauritius
8. TAAG Angola
9. Atlas Blue
10. Libyan Airline 
We can use several other methods such as passenger miles, passenger kilometres ,number of scheduled international passenger numbers and the trend will be the same but then, we will have to write a book!

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3 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    You may need to update your facts. Arik Air in Nigeria has a fleet of 26 aircrafts excluding orders.Carried its 4millionth passenger within 2 years of operation. But, I don't see it listed in any of your categories.


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  3. Sthomas Says:

    South African airlines is the biggest airline in Africa. Its regional network spreads throughout of the Southern, Western and Eastern Africa.
    Safest airlines


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