It’s official: Air Senegal will be serving the USA. It has put Dakar to both New York JFK and Washington Dulles on sale, with the one-stop service starting on September 2nd. It’ll use the 290-seat A330-900, and it expects a 70% seat load factor in year one.
Air Senegal’s new US service will operate on Thursdays and Sundays and will have the following schedule.
- HC407: departing Dakar at 01:30, arriving JFK 06:00, leaving 08:30, arriving Dulles at 10:00
- HC408: Dulles at 20:25, arriving JFK 21:55, leaving 23:55, arriving Dakar at 12:25 (next day)
Air Senegal will compete directly with Delta on JFK-Dakar. The airline has a once-daily non-stop service using B767-300ERs, a route it launched in 2017. Unlike the new entrant in this market, Delta has daytime service to NYC, leaving Dakar at 0910 and arriving at 1330.
The US was expected
Air Senegal expressed its intention to serve Washington in 2019. This was on the back of South African Airways ending its Johannesburg-Dakar-Washington service, which operated until 2019 before being switched to Accra. It was a ready-made market.
Little else was said on the matter until February 11th, 2021, when it submitted its application to the US Department of Transportation (DOT). Its application stated that it expects to carry 42,224 passengers in the first year using wet-leased aircraft.
Air Senegal’s A330s
Air Senegal has two A330-900s in its fleet, along with the A319, A321, and ATR-72. One A330-900 is on the Senegalese register as 6V-ANB; this was delivered in November 2019. RadarBox.com indicates that ‘November Bravo presently operates exclusively on the airline’s core Dakar to Paris CDG service.
The carrier also has a second A330-900, registered 9H-SZN, which was delivered in March 2019. This is wet-leased from aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance (ACMI) provider HiFly Malta. As its DOT application specified wet-leased aircraft, it is likely that 9H-SZN will be used.
Both A330s are in a 290-seat configuration, according to both Planespotters.net and the airline’s website, which is on the lower side compared with other -900 users. They’re configured with 230 seats in economy, 32 in business, and 21 in premium economy.
Expects a 70% seat factor in year one
With 290-seat aircraft and the expected traffic of 42,224 passengers, Air Senegal forecasts a seat load factor (SLF) of 70% in year one. Given COVID and the need to develop long-haul markets, this is probably reasonable. This excludes freight, which could be significant.
Targeting West Africa
Air Senegal aims to capture a chunk of both point-to-point (P2P) demand from both New York and Washington to Dakar, which had around 70,000 round-trip passengers in 2019, booking data suggests.
It will also be targeting demand from NYC and Washington to seven cities over Dakar, as follows, each of which will have two-way connectivity. There’s demand of approximately 100,000 to them.
- Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
- Bamako, Mali
- Banjul, Gambia (although the outbound connection time is excessive)
- Cap Skiring, Senegal
- Conakry, Guinea
- Nouakchott, Mauritania
- Ziguinchor, Senegal
Why not triangular?
Some may wonder why Air Senegal doesn’t serve JFK and Dulles on a triangular basis: Dakar-JFK-Dulles-Dakar. This would, after all, significantly reduce costs and free up what is an expensive aircraft. The reason is clear: it is via JFK in both directions to maximize connectivity over Dakar.
If it operated triangularly, it would arrive back into Senegal too early for anyone to connect onwards, as shown in the following figure, meaning it’d probably be even more costly than operating via JFK in both directions. And if it terminated at JFK, the aircraft would remain on the ground there from 06:00 to 23:55.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that political rather than commercial considerations drive this route, and that is probably true to an extent. No matter how you look at it, it’s a brave decision. But unlike obviously ‘prestige’ routes, this will only be twice-weekly with a realistic 70% SLF target in year one. It’d need to gain around a one-quarter share of the total traffic in 2019, as mentioned above, to achieve that figure.
While the jury is out on if it’ll be sustainable, it could be boosted further should Air Senegal add Dakar to the crucial Anglophone countries of Ghana and Nigeria in West Africa.
What do you think about this new route? Comment below!