What’s next in Cape Verde’s aviation market?

2019 seemed to mark a new beginning for the aviation market in Cape Verde. After all, the country’s flag carrier, TACV (acronym for Transportes Aéreos de Cabo VerdeCabo Verde Airlines), was finally privatized after years of drama – the airline has long been a drain on public resources.

The buyers, associated with the management of Icelandair, wanted to apply a well-known formula; a hub-and-spoke network benefiting from the country’s unique geographical location. They had done it in Iceland and expected to do the same in Cape Verde, or even use the same fleet of Boeing 757s, as Icelandair phased them out.

TACV has previously flown between the Brazilian northeast and Europe via Cape Verde, but the Icelandic management team has begun to steer the airline towards a network fully focused on the hub philosophy, driving operations from Praia , which has a shorter track, in Sal. The airline was also renamed “Cabo Verde Airlines”.

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In December 2019, they started a new route, to Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, the first entirely hub-focused destination, since relations between this part of Brazil and Cape Verde are practically non-existent.

What happened just three months later, COVID-19, is well known and has upended Cape Verde’s economy, which is driven by tourism.

It was not until December 2021 that Cabo Verde Airlines restarted its operations; this time, renationalised, after a series of misunderstandings between Icelandic investors and the Cape Verdean government.

It can therefore be said that this is Cape Verde’s first summer season after COVID, as European tourists flock to the country’s beautiful islands. How is the market developing today, after two very difficult years?

With the help of the Diio Mi app from Cirium and their July 2022 data versus July 2019, we tried to paint a picture of the market there.

Using the lyrics of the song, Cabo Verde Airlines is no longer half the man it used to be. Its only aircraft is a 737-700 wet-leased from TAAG, and its network currently serves the Cape Verdean diaspora in Portugal, connecting Praia, Sal and São Vicente to Lisbon with this aircraft.

Local periodical In Nacao reported in May that all 757s have been returned to Icelandair except one, D4-CCG, which was grounded by the local airport operator and therefore could not be returned – this is now the main battleground of an imbroglio.

The picture painted by In Nacao says that TACV “remains one of the public companies that drains the most money from the public treasury, accumulating debts and loans, many of them to pay salaries and suppliers”.

Thus, while at first we thought we could think the opposite, the management of Cabo Verde Airlines has its hands tied. With low levels of money to invest and public pressure, they have to stick to what knowingly brings results.

And according to Cirium, TACV should only operate 52 flights this month, compared to 345 in July 2019 – they are down 84.9%.

If in 2019, Cabo Verde Airlines transported 25.7% of seats to and from its country of origin, it flies only 3.5%.

With this, TAP is currently the largest airline in Cape Verde, in seats and ASK. The airline did not add any new routes to its portfolio (Lisbon to Boa Vista, Praia, Sal and São Vicente), but it grew strongly on virtually all of them.

The growth in the number of available seats was approximately 24.9% between July 2019 and July 2022.

The rest of the airlines are, for the most part, European airlines transporting tourists to the archipelago. In total, three dropped out compared to 2019 (ASL France, Smartwings Poland and TAAG) and there are five new entrants: Alba Star, ASKY, Corendon, Luxair and Vueling.

The routes that did not succeed this summer are numerous, illustrating quite clearly the absence caused by the crash landing of TACV’s expansion plans.

Map created with the Great Circle Mapper.

And the current roadmap reflects this trend, as there are currently no connections between Cape Verde and North and South America.

As for the new routes, most of them describe that the rebound is carried by European airlines.

Created with the Great Circle Mapper: only flights departing from Cape Verde, to keep things simple.

In total, traffic in Cape Verde in July is down 29.3%, in terms of seats, compared to the same month in 2019.

But one thing that went relatively unnoticed, given its potential to grow the archipelago’s workforce, was the arrival of Vueling in June. It is the first low-cost carrier to arrive on the island.

Currently, the airline operates a weekly frequency from Barcelona to Sal, with an Airbus A320. The arrival of the airline marked “”the beginning of a new chapter in tourism in Cape Verde”, said Francisco Martins, director of the Cape Verde Tourism Institute, to Espresso das Ilhas periodical at the time.

He also hinted at the announcement of another European airline which is expected to arrive in the country in October. According to Cirium, it would be Transavia France, with two weekly frequencies from Paris/Orly to Sal and a single weekly flight from Orly to Boa Vista.

At first glance, local management has given up on relying on TACV for its growth and for ensuring the connectivity of its diaspora around the world. With that, there’s enough reason to believe that their chips are headed to the new incoming low-cost carriers, Transavia and Vueling.

With this, the results of this season will be decisive for the next one. This way, the country can collect the results and show other airlines (with generous benefits) that their market has the potential to be profitable.

And, at the same time, they can thus show the current airlines that there is more potential to be found. While a second weekly flight with Vueling may not seem like much, it’s potentially 180 new tourists a week spending in hotels, restaurants and bringing money back to the local economy.

So if this season goes well, the next one can be even better – with or without Cabo Verde Airlines.