Cabo Verde Airlines – Is It Still ‘Africa’s Icelandair’?

Cabo Verde Airlines has always been a small and financially poor airline with inconsistent development. And while all airlines have suffered from the pandemic, it appears to be worse hit than most owing to a very long-term period of no flying. And this week, the country’s government said it is unlikely to fly for another six months. We look at ‘Africa’s Icelandair’.

Cabo Verde Airlines
Cabo Verde Airlines is expected to resume flying within six months. When it does, it’ll probably have a very limited network focused on absolutely core routes. Photo: João Machado.

Grand plan

Cape Verde is located in the Atlantic Ocean, not far from the coast of West Africa. A former Portuguese colony, it has strong connections with Portugal, including diaspora. Significantly, it is positioned within narrowbody range of Europe, North America, and South America.

Within 4,000 miles of Sal, the hub of Cabo Verde Airlines, are all relevant areas of Europe and large amounts of South America, Africa, and the Eastern USA. The Brazilian city of Fortazela, for example, is just 1,767 miles away, closer than Lisbon.

Cabo Verde Airlines – Is It Still ‘Africa’s Icelandair’?
This B757 was delivered to Icelandair in 1990 and remained until 2019, before moving to Cabo Verde. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia.

Geographic location

This geographic convenience was not lost on Loftleidir Cabo Verde, which acquired 51% of the ailing carrier in 2019. Most of Loftleidir Cabo Verde is owned by Loftleidir Icelandic, which the Icelandair Group owns.

And despite ownership problems, it is not enormously surprising that Icelandair was recruited to do something similar to what it does successfully between Europe and North America.

Cabo Verde Airlines international network 2019
This was Cabo Verde’s international network in 2019. Luanda (LAD) was planned, while Boston, previously served from Praia for visiting friends and relatives demand, was shifted to its hub at Sal. Image: GCMap.

Africa’s Icelandair

Just over a month ago, in July 2021, the Cape Verde Government reiterated its intention to create a hub to benefit from its obvious position atop various traffic flows, such as Europe to South America and the US to Africa. This has been said for years, but perhaps it will get back on course and finally be realized.

And if it happens, transit passengers and diaspora from Portugal and the US and beyond will be crucial in its quest to become Africa’s Icelandair. Indeed, ~600,000 Cape Verdeans and descendants live in the US, especially in New England, which accounted for its long-running Boston service. This is similar to Azores Airlines.

Tourism will also be key. Pre-COVID, Cape Verde forecast three million tourists by 2030, up fewer than one million in 2018, although other operators have generally delivered tourists. As the carrier’s first CEO, under Loftleidir Cabo Verde ownership, said:

“Our goal is to keep growing in a sustainable way, emulating Icelandair’s successful business model… we now have a new mission, which is to connect these four continents.”

Cabo Verde 757
This 757 was used by Cabo Verde from mid-2018 until early 2020, before going to Icelandair in 2021 as TF-LLV. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia.

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Connecting four continents

In 2019, Cabo Verde’s international network comprised 12 routes, as shown on the map above. Luanda, Angola, was planned, with connections to Portugal, although this routing was not as convenient or obvious as others. Indeed, some routes were virtually on the great circle, such as:

  • Washington-Sal-Lagos: 74 miles longer than a non-stop would be
  • Lisbon-Sal-Salvador: deviates by one mile
  • Paris-Sal-Porto Alegre: three miles longer than a non-stop would be
Cabo Verde Airlines transit focus
This image shows the airline’s international arrivals/departures at Sal in December 2019. Some destinations, such as Porto Alegre and Salvador, saw aircraft spend nearly 24 hours on the ground to facilitate connections over its hub. Image: OAG.

Set up for transit passengers

The carrier had two extremely coordinated waves each day with one to two hours on the ground, enabling quick and easy connections. Arrivals from Africa and South America landed around 06:30 to 07:30 and departed soon after to Europe and the USA. These arrived back in the mid-evening – the next day for the USA – to connect onwards. For example:

  • Recife-Sal-Lisbon: 01:05-07:10; 08:40-14:45
  • Lisbon-Sal-Recife: 17:40-19:50; 21:50-00:02+1 (the next day)

Do you think the airline’s Sal hub will resume? Let us know in the comments.

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