RAM’s entry into oneworld finally gives the alliance a visible presence in Africa; is China next?

As the largest unaligned carrier in Africa, Royal Air Maroc (RAM) was always going to be a target for the global alliances, especially as its Mohammed V International Airport base in Casablanca has grown as a key gateway into North Africa and an increasing connection point into other parts of Africa.


Summary:

  • Royal Air Maroc (RAM) will become a member of the oneworld global alliance from mid-2020 giving the grouping an expanded presence in the African continent;
  • RAM will add 34 new destinations and 21 countries to the alliance’s route map, increasing to 49 destinations and 30 countries through its five-year development plan;
  • The North African carrier already codeshares with Qatar Airways, Iberia and S7 Airlines, but will now seek further links with other member airlines.

While Star and SkyTeam both already have a presence in Africa through based flag carriers, oneworld was a natural fit, but the fractured nature of intra-Africa connectivity means RAM would not have been out of place sitting at the table among its peers in the other global groupings.

The value to oneworld is clear when you consider that RAM’s network today will add 34 new destinations and 21 countries to the alliance’s route map, taking the alliance’s network to 1,069 airports in 178 countries and territories.

The word ‘today’ is important as RAM has an ambitious five-year plan to almost double passenger numbers from 7.3 million in 2017 to over 13 million a year. This will see its global network expand to 121 destinations in 68 countries and in the process add another 15 destinations and nine countries to the oneworld network – giving the alliance a total of 1,084 destinations in 187 countries and territories.

Oneworld’ presence in Africa has been limited to the activities of its out of Continent membership, albeit Comair in South Africa, which flies as a franchisee of British Airways, has been a oneworld affiliate member since the alliance launched in Feb-1999. RAM will now give it a firm foundation in Africa, at a time that through the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) shows signs of finally delivering a form of liberalisation to the Continent.

Of course, RAM’s homeland, Morocco, has already seen the value of a liberalised outlook with its open skies agreement with the European Union the first such complete aviation agreement between the EU and a non-European country. The agreement has resulted in a massive rise in international connectivity to Morocco.

RAM is not expected to be fully implemented into oneworld until mid-2020, when its regional subsidiary Royal Air Maroc Express will also join as a oneworld affiliate member. It will be the first new full member since Qatar Airways joined in 2013, albeit the announcement coincided with Fiji Airways formally joining as the first oneworld connect partner, a new level of membership.

There are already links between the oneworld membership at RAM via codeshares with Qatar Airways and both Iberia and S7 Airlines.  It is expected to develop further links with other member airlines as it prepares to join the group.

A look at the CAPA – Centre for Aviation Fleet Database shows that RAM’s current fleet of just over 50 aircraft is centred around the Boeing 737-800 and Embraer 190 on short to medium-haul routes, with Boeing 767 and Boeing 787-8s flying long-haul services. Its regional affiliate, Royal Air Maroc Express, operates ATR 72 turboprops, while a first 787-9 is due for delivery to RAM later this month.

Under its five-year growth plan, its fleet will increase as it extends the reach of its network from the current 94 destinations to 121. It will also raise frequencies in many established markets making virtually all short and medium-haul markets at least daily and, in many cases, multiple frequencies a day, turning its Casablanca base – where in the coming few weeks, it will move into a completely rebuilt, state-of-the-art Terminal 1 – into a fully-fledged transfer hub.

Earlier this year, oneworld CEO Rob Gurney noted that in the future oneworld “would target as full members large airlines that have a significant presence in the alliance’s prime target market, providing connections between the world’s leading business centres.” RAM clearly fits that bill in Africa. The next step for oneworld is to build a bigger presence in China, plugging what is a considerable network hole… one some would say is the shape of China Southern Airlines!