Kenya Airways (KQ) and South African Airways (SAA) have signed a strategic partnership framework in a move to see the two carriers eventually for a pan-African airline by 2023.

The signing follows President Uhuru Kenyatta’s visit to South Africa, in a bid to unlock trade, tourism and aviation sectors between the two countries.

The signing of the partnership will see the two African airlines work together to increase passenger traffic, cargo opportunities, and general trade. Customers will also benefit from more competitive price offerings for both passenger and cargo segments.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, KQ has made losses attributed to aircraft grounding at the beginning of the pandemic and travel restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of the virus. However, KQ projects the long recovery prospects and diminishing revenue in an environment of increased costs due to tight health and safety measures mean it will require a bailout to stay afloat. The persistent underperformance of the airline has led to huge losses and loss of market share to rival firms.

As a result, the government has opted to nationalise the carrier by buying out the minority shareholders with hopes of turning around its dwindling fortunes.

Speaking on the plans to form a regional airline, KQ chairman Michael Joseph said in a statement, “This cooperation aligns with Kenya Airways’ core purpose of contributing to the sustainable development of Africa and is based on mutual benefits. It will increase connectivity through passenger traffic, cargo opportunities while enhancing the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).”