By John Flett
Royal Air Maroc Celebrates 2 Years of Oneworld Membership
Royal Air Maroc officially joined the Oneworld global strategic alliance on 1 April 2020 but celebrations at the time were muted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As Morocco’s flagship carrier marks two years of membership today the airline has recently held events to promote the second anniversary of the North African airline’s entry to Oneworld.
The airline chose Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and Lagos, Nigeria for the events in March and AirlineGeeks attended the latter. Representing Royal Air Maroc in Nigeria was Monsieur Karim Benchekoun the airline’s chief finance and support officer. Rob Gurney the chief executive officer of Oneworld made the trip to Nigeria after an alliance board meeting in Morocco.
Royal Air Maroc was first announced to be joining Oneworld in December 2018 and Mr. Gurney commended the airline and its staff on completing the integration into the alliance in fifteen months. The carrier adds 30 new destinations to OneWorld’s network, all of which are on the African continent. M. Benchekoun said that Oneworld was the perfect fit for Royal Air Maroc given the existing partnerships the airline had with Oneworld member airlines such as American Airlines and Iberia. However, the main reason for joining Oneworld was the lack of an African partner for the airline industry’s second global strategic alliance formed in 1999.
Nigeria is the largest country by population in Africa with just over 215 million people and with that number expected to exceed over 400 million by 2050 according to the United Nations, there is a burgeoning aviation market. M. Benchekoun announced that Royal Air Maroc had “big plans to develop the Nigerian market for obvious reasons” given the different types of markets that the country attracts: business, tourism, shopping. The airline had previously operated services to the country’s capital Abuja and currently operates a daily service to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial center to the airline’s Casablanca hub.
Royal Air Maroc’s Casablanca to Lagos service departs late evening and arrives in Nigeria early morning with a one-hour turnaround so may be perceived as not ideal for certain markets. The return arrival time back in Casablanca does however offer multiple connections to the airline’s U.S. and European services.
The airline operates a flexible capacity between Lagos and Casablanca with a mix of Boeing aircraft: the 737-800; 787-8 and 787-9. In addition to the late departure time from Casablanca Moroccans’ ability to obtain a Nigerian visa may also be seen as an impediment to growth within the leisure market. M. Benchekoun said that the airline would be seeking to minimize these barriers and in addition to talks with consulate staff on the visa issue was looking to “push for more slots with Nigerian Civil Aviation.” The director-general of Nigeria Civil Aviation Captain Musa Shuaibu Nuhu was present at a later event hosted by Royal Air Maroc and the Oneworld alliance.
With the Kingdom of Morocco re-opening to fully vaccinated tourists on 7 February M. Benchekoun added that demand across the airline’s network had recovered very quickly. “We are now at 70 percent of 2019 demand levels, at 100 percent of the 2019 levels in certain European markets. In terms of network recovery, we are at 85 percent, with a significant increase of aircraft use. We completely resumed our Africa network except for Luanda for the time being.”
Benchekoun said Royal Air Maroc has a 2022-23 strategy of “capacity focus and frequency” with new routes being added to a “medium-haul plan”. He noted that prior to the Open Skies agreement with the European Union Royal Air Maroc had a 55 percent market share of flights into and out of Morocco but this is now sitting at 32 percent. In March the airline began its inaugural service to Tel Aviv, Israel from Casablanca servicing an ex-pat community and opening up opportunities for business and leisure travel between the countries. The route began with an initial four-times per week flight schedule though further frequency is expected to be added soon.
The recent signing by the Kingdom of Morocco on 9 March of the ‘Revised Constitution of the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC)’ and the ‘Memorandum of Implementation (MoI) of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM)’ may assist Royal Air Maroc in expanding frequency and markets across the continent to further assist the reach of the Oneworld alliance.
Morocco joins over 30 other African Union (AU) states that have joined SAATM and have opened up their markets to each other. SAATM seeks to remove restrictions in terms of frequency, capacity and granting to each other traffic rights that seek to enable intra-African transport connectivity and support the improvement of trade and tourism. These AU states represent a total population of more than 800 million people and account for 89 percent of the intra-African air transport market.
The author’s trip to Morocco and Nigeria was provided by Royal Air Maroc.