The battle for Cape Verde is hotting up
A small archipelago off the coast of west Africa is about to become a battlefield as two newcomers try to grab a slice of the local market from the national carrier. Alan Dron reports.
Cape Verde is gaining a reputation in Europe as a new tourist destination – a warm, year-round cluster of islands some 570km west of Senegal, to which people can escape from the chill of a northerly winter.
The seas around the islands are frequently the birthplace of hurricanes that eventually blast across the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard of the US.
And now, a stiff breeze of competition is about to blow through the archipelago as national carrier Cape Verde Airlines (Transportes Aéreos de Cabo Verde, or TACV) is challenged by two newcomers.
Binter Canarias, from the ‘neighbouring’ archipelago of the Canary Islands, 1,500km to the northeast, plans to start intra-island operations in Cape Verde. Considerably further to the north, Latvian airline Smart Lynx also has designs on the islands.
TACV currently operates a network of flights between seven islands in the 10-island archipelago. In addition to the international hub on Sal, airports have been built on the inhabited islands and all but those on Brava and Santo Antão enjoy scheduled air services.
TACV also operates to several western European destinations, notably Rotterdam, where there is a sizeable Cape Verdean community. It has a single route to the US, flying to Providence, Rhode Island, one to mainland Africa (Dakar) and four to Brazil, which shares with Cape Verde its use of the Portuguese language.
The airline has a small fleet consisting of one ATR 42 and two ATR 72 turboprops for regional services, plus single examples of the Boeing 737-800 and a 757-200.
It has reportedly been loss-making for several years and has required government bail-outs. In March, TACV CEO, Joao Pereira Silva, was quoted by Reuters as saying that it had to cut costs, notably by making sizeable reductions in its 500-strong workforce if it was to attract new investors. In February, the airline’s Boeing 737-800 was temporarily impounded at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for alleged non-payment of leasing fees to Ireland-based lessor AerCap.
Binter has operated services between the Canaries and Cape Verde since 2012. However, the Canaries-based airline opened offices in Cape Verde’s capital, Praia, on the island of Santiago in June 2015 with the aim of creating a new, locally based subsidiary.
In recent years, Binter operated a fleet of 15 ATR 72-500 turboprops. Over the past two years it has ordered 12 of the latest ATR 72-600s to replace older models. It is also leasing two Bombardier CRJ900 regional jets from Spanish company, Air Nostrum, to handle longer sectors. It intends, initially, to link the Cape Verdean islands of Santiago, Sal and Boavista, “but the goal in future is to extend connections to the rest of the islands that have airports”, a spokesman said.
Initial plans were to station two ATR 72s in Cape Verde, although this number was likely to rise, he added.
It had hoped to start services there by the end of last year. However, speaking in mid-May, the spokesman said that administrative procedures to set up the new operation had taken longer than anticipated. It hoped to begin operations “as soon as possible”.
Latvian charter and leasing specialist, Smart Lynx, is also understood to have experienced delays in setting up services in Cape Verde. The Riga-based airline, which flies 12 Airbus A320s, undertakes charter services for the Latvian and Estonian markets.
It has said for some time that it aims to set up a subsidiary in Cape Verde and base two aircraft there to operate to the Baltic nations. However, in April, airline intelligence website CH-Aviation quoted Smart Lynx vice-president, Aleksandrs Gusevs, as saying that obtaining a Cape Verdean air operator’s certificate had been delayed until November 2016 to allow it to handle European summer season traffic before basing two A320s in the archipelago.
Repeated attempts by African Aerospace to contact Smart Lynx for more details of its plans were unsuccessful.