“The Orga niz ati on al Ecology of Foundings and F ailur es in the Af ric an Airline Ind ustr y, 1933-20 05”

A Thesis Presented By Jef fre y Christ opher A gu er o

To The Harvard University Department of Sociology In Partial Fulfillment for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts With Honors in Sociology and African Studies

Harvard University Cambridge, Massachusetts 24 March 2006

Table of Contents

1 Acknowledgements 2 Abstract 3 Introduction 4 Global Politics and Airline Entrepreneurship 5 The African Airline Industry 6 Theoretical Background 7 Data and Methods 8 Results and Discussion 9 Conclusion 10 Bibliography 11 Appendix




Without the help and guidance of my very knowledgeable and extremely patient and flexible advisor, Professor Frank Dobbin, I would not have been able to complete this project. He assisted me every step of the way and always had time to devote to the endeavor. Equally important to both the development of the initial project and advice and suggestions along the way was David Ager. His willingness to help out and timely were always greatly appreciated.

I would also like to thank Victoria Kent and the entire Department of Sociology undergraduate team for their assistance and guidance throughout the project, including the department’s funding. Terri Oliver in the Department of African and African American Studies also was helpful over the past year. Lauren Rivera and Mia Bagneris assisted in editing and directing the nature and direction of the project, as the graduate student advisors in each department. In addition, I owe a debt of gratitude to John Mugane for stimulating my interest in Africa on the first day of my first-year at Harvard. Asante sana mwalimu.

Finally I would like to thank my friends and family for their continual reassurance and motivation throughout my research, which provided valuable at a number of points. Specifically I wish to thank my mom and dad for supporting me and allowing me to attend Harvard, without which I would have never had access to some many excellent opportunities, including this thesis.




Airlines are extremely vital components of modern society. They serve as the main method of transportation between countries and regions and contribute to the free flow of people, goods, and ideas – a necessary condition of the global marketplace. An analysis of the dynamics underlying the African airline industry through the lens of the population ecology framework provides excellent insight into how the organizations interact and respond to global political events such as the end of World War Two, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the struggle for independence. I collected data over the entire lifespan of the African airline industry from 1933 to 2005 in relation to the birth and death patterns of firms during that period. After conducting regression analysis of the founding and failure of these airlines, I found that the industry follows the same general dynamics outlined in other ecological models relating to density, age, and rate dependence. In addition, the results show that birth rates were positively impacted by the end of World War Two, the end of the Cold War, and the granting of independence; likelihood of failure was also reduced during these periods, leading to a net increase in density. These results offer insight into both population ecology and African development policies. Future ecological studies should consider international populations and put greater emphasis on the effect of political environment. Likewise, development activists would be wise to spend more time understanding the underlying dynamics of developing nations’ industries and how they are affected by environmental changes. Such insight can provide assistance when formulating policies designed to encourage growth by increasing knowledge of how organizations will respond to these


changes. Future research should focus on comparative approaches with other regions and the inclusion of additional variables to further substantiate the hypothesis.



When Oroville and Wilbur Wright successfully flew world’s first airplane at Kitty Hawk in 1903 little did they realize the revolution their inaugural flight would soon begin. More than a century after their historic flight, our world relies on air travel as a means of transportation more than ever before. While catastrophic events such as plane crashes or terrorist hijackings result in a short-term realization of the importance of air travel, by and large the vast structures and mechanisms that serve as the foundation for our system of air travel goes largely taken-for-granted and unnoticed. As impressive as modern aircraft are, equally astounding are the organizations that have been put in place to operate and coordinate the journeys of these massive, flying vessels. To fully appreciate these systems it is necessary to better understand the rules and processes that govern the interaction between airline firms. As the world continues to shrink on a daily basis as a result of globalization, barriers that once separated nation states dwindle in response to increase in transnational communication, and airlines serve as a major vehicle for promoting such change. Passenger air travel has transformed a journey that previously took weeks or months by boat or train into a trip no longer than a days travel. Consolidation such as this is integral to the free flow of people and ideas required by modern society and understanding how such systems operate in underdeveloped regions such as Africa can provide excellent direction in how to more effectively design structures within these regions so as to more easily promote a global economy. Considering the importance of air travel to globalization this project seeks to investigate the organizational dynamics of African airlines, paying particular attention to


the processes governing the founding and failure rates of firms. Drawing on the population ecology literature as originally conceived by Hannan and Freeman, I assume that density, age, and birth and death dependence affect the entry and exit of African airlines. Additionally, I propose that three political factors – the end of World War Two, the granting of independence to former colonies, and the end of the Cold War – all positively contribute to firm growth and reduce likelihood of organizational mortality. I am to explain the historical changes in the airline population in the context of the political changes that occurred during these periods. In spite of recent gains in economic production and huge sums of foreign aid, Africa continues to be the world’s most underdeveloped region. Huge amounts of time and money have gone into studying the “development crisis” afflicting Africa, but more research is necessary to understand the structures underlying African society. Rather than simply pumping more money to fix the problems, we must seek to understand how the institutions within Africa work. The application of a methodology such as population ecology, which has been used to analyze changes in organizations in the West, proves to be extremely valuable in understanding the organizational dynamics governing the population of firms within Africa. Analyzing how African organizations operate, respond to environmental changes, and ultimately live and die can help to illuminate new more effective methods at sustaining development as well as offer comparisons between Africa and other regions of the world. The dynamism of the airline industry and its importance across the continent towards furthering the flow of people and ideas makes it a prime candidate for study. My hope is that this project will provide at least some insight into the processes underlying African organizations.


Global Politics and Airline Entrepreneurship


Ecological Perspectives on Political Environment Previous studies in organizational ecology have considered a number of factors including age, density, birthrates, and death rates in their studies of the changing nature of organizational populations, but relatively few have analyzed the specific effects of political changes on the organizational environment. Some of the major research that has taken political variables into consideration involves the study of newspapers in a number of countries. Studies of newspapers in Argentina and Ireland have shown that political turbulence raises birth rates, and similar studies of newspapers in the United States and Finland showed that political turbulence also increases failure rates. (Delacroix and Carroll 1983; Carroll and Huo 1986; Amburgey et al. 1988) Evidence also shows that newspapers founded during these turbulent times have shorter life spans and a higher risk of because of their role as opportunists, taking advantages of the temporary spike in resources (Carroll and Delacroix 1982). While these studies definitely provide insight into the role of political events on organizational populations they are limited to the national and local scale and do not investigate global changes in politics. Likewise, the studies limit themselves to only the newspapers within one country and there is no study of the global newspaper industry. In studying the African airline industry, I have been able to focus on the effect of global politics on a multi-national, continent-wide organizational population. Additionally, whereas the studies of newspapers have found that political effects stimulate birth and death rates, I hypothesize that the political effects in this study increase birth rates and decrease death rates, providing a net overall increase to the industry’s population.


The Role of Political Effects on African Airlines Beyond demographic characteristics of the population such as age and density, I propose that three political factors affect the birth and death of African airlines: the end of the World War Two, the end of the Cold War, and the granting of independence to African nations.

The Post-World War Two Era The period after World War Two leads to higher birth rates and lower death rates of airlines for two main reasons: increased legitimacy of airlines on the whole, and the application of new technology to an already present infrastructure. This period begins roughly at the end of the Second World War and continues to the present.

Hypothesis #1: Greater legitimacy of the airline industry by international organizations in the post-World War Two era led to increases in birth rates and decreases in the likelihood of failure.

The 1940s saw the development of a bevy of international organizations that began to establish standards transcending national boundaries. Institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were founded in 1946, and aimed to provide economic assistance and regulation on a global scale. More applicable to airlines, was the establishment of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 1945 and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 1944. The IATA is a


trade organization made up of airlines from around the world and collects data from its members on a variety of variables ranging from the number of planes in a fleet, the size of the workforce, average load factors, and routes traveled. Additionally, the IATA compiles reports and papers on current issues applicable to its members on such issues as changes in safety regulations, the impact of world events on air travel, and fuel price predictions. (IATA 2006) The ICAO, a unit of the United Nations, is the closest thing to an international air transportation regulatory agency that exists. Major activities of the ICAO include negotiating air traffic rights between countries, planning future routes, and establishment standardized communication and safety protocols. One major contribution of the ICAO is the development of a standardized air traffic control designator and code system for pilots and air traffic control to communicate; equally valuable was the creation of a uniform system of four-letter airport codes for travel agencies, airlines, and pilots to use so that routes and fares can be calculated with a universal set of city identifiers. (ICAO 2006) Both the IATA and the ICAO have assisted greatly in standardizing the international airline industry. Increased standardization and regulation helped to increase the legitimacy of the airline industry by increasing public awareness, easing air travel, and improving the feelings of safety in the air. Additionally, the ICAO has integrated governments into the airline industries activities through the process of route negotiation and traffic rights. This linkage between the government and the IATA gave even more legitimacy to the airline industry as a whole, because government cooperation with IATA signified an implicit act of external legitimacy; if governments viewed airlines as illegitimate they would refuse to negotiate routes, but because they did negotiate routes it implies they recognize airlines as a legitimate organizational form. Such recognition by


governments greatly raises the overall legitimacy of airlines because governments are considered very high status institutional actors; the recognition by such a high actor raises the organizations status to a level that makes other institutional actors (i.e. banks, private investors, consumers, etc) equally willing to give support to airlines. (Baum and Oliver 1991) Steps such as these have resulted in greater public confidence in air travel, leading to a greater willingness to devote resources in airlines, thus increasing birth rates and decreasing death rates.

Hypothesis #2: New advances in aviation technology and their application to an already present infrastructure, as well as increases in population reduced death rates and increased birth rates after World War Two.

In addition the development of institutions such as the IATA and ICAO in the post-World War Two era, technological improvements combined with an already present infrastructure in place during the “scramble for Africa” facilitated growth. The infrastructure for air travel had already been established in Africa as the colonial powers used air travel as a primary means of connecting cities and regions across the continent. Because of the relative ease in establishing airfields in undeveloped areas, the colonial powers – most notably Britain and Germany – heavily used airships to connect their colonial possessions in the 1920s and 1930s. The establishment of terminals, runaways, training programs, and protocols allowed air travel to continue to grow and thrive in the post-colonial era. (McCormack 1976) World War Two was the first conflict to rely


heavily on airplanes, and the new technology was used extensively in both combat and transportation of troops and supplies. After the end of the war, significant technological process had been made in both the aircraft themselves and their related systems. The turbojet engine and turbofan were the most notable technological innovations during the war. (Loftin 2004) The jet-engine allowed for much faster travel as well as for longer flights than previously covered by propeller aircraft. These increases allowed airlines to improve their efficiency and carry more passengers at a time to cities much further away. The application of these technologies to the international passenger industry combined with a war-depressed global economy resulted in considerable growth and expansion into new markets and routes. When considering the infrastructure that was already in place from the pre-World War Two imperialist struggles, Africa significantly benefited from increased air activity as the new technologies were easily integrated. The worldwide volume of air travel, as measured by passenger air traffic, increased seven fold between the end of World War Two and 1980, signaling just how much the industry grew. (Jonsson 1981) These factors led to increased density and births and decreased death rates in the post-World War Two era.

The End of the Cold War Similar to the period after the end of World War Two, the end of the Cold War also signaled increased birth rates and decreased likelihood of death. Throughout the period from 1945 to 1989, both the Soviet Union and the United States used Africa – as they did much of the developing world – as a battleground for the Cold War. Though geographically distant from both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., the recently independent


nations of post-Colonial Africa presented ideal breeding grounds for the competing ideological and political systems of the two super-powers. The United States sought to spread democracy throughout the world and the U.S.S.R. aimed to impose its socialist model of government to newly developing nations; both countries found takers for their respective policies in Africa, but they also both cultivated the development of authoritarian regimes as well. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. equally exploited the desperate need of African nations for economic and military support, and in some cases the support paid off with countries adopting their respective political ideologies. Countries such as Senegal and Tanzania followed the Soviet Union closely with the adoption of African socialism. (Thomson 2004) More frequently however, African heads of state had the ability to garner resources and support from both sides yet remained largely unaligned in the conflict (Melady 1965). Rather than adopt a strictly socialist or democratic model, nations such as Zaire leveraged resources from both sides but remained largely authoritarian under Mobutu. South Africa serves as another prime example of this, as the U.S. government feared that too much direct intrusion into Pretoria’s affairs would result in a tip in favor of the Soviets. This led to President Reagan’s hesitation to impose full sanctions against South Africa during the 1980s despite similar moves by other countries. (Moss 1995) In general, the Cold War era allowed for authoritarian, totalitarian, and to a lesser extent socialist regimes to grow in Africa. Socialist and authoritarian regimes allowed to remain in place during the Cold War contributed significantly to Africa’s social, political, and economic underdevelopment. (McFerson 1992)


Hypothesis #3: The decline of socialist and authoritarian regimes after the end of the Cold War resulted in increases in democratic and popularly-elected governments. These changes contributed to the development of greater economic freedom and marketplaces that generated greater resources. The added resources increased birth rates and decreased the likelihood of disbanding.

With the fall of the Soviet Union came greater political participation and the development of democratically grounded institutions which allowed for the emergence of greater political and economic freedom and a stronger marketplace. Once the threat of authoritarian African regimes retracting from the U.S.’s democratic gestures and to a socialist model was rendered moot at the end of the Cold War, the U.S. was able to take a more active role in encouraging popular control and the lifting of restrictions placed on the national markets across the continent. Essentially, the end of the Cold War allowed for a more aggressive democratization of the continent as there was no need to pander to dictators once the bargaining chip of Communism fell off the table. The fall of Communism not only allowed the United States to take a more active role in the promoting democracy but also allowed for greater agitation by democratic-activist groups within African nations. The combination of international pressure and internal movements contributed to more democracy in post-Cold War Africa. (McFerson 1992) In 1989, only four African countries were rated as democratic regimes, but by 1992, 18 countries were considered at or in progress of reaching democratic status. Though democratic participation and political freedom has made strides, there is still much work to do as authoritarian regimes in such countries as Zimbabwe hamper efforts for continent 17

wide stability and freedom. That said, the fall of the Soviet Union saw a surge of recognition for the need of democratic structures and institutions in African societies. (Moss 1995) Higher degrees of political freedom led to greater economic activity and a stronger marketplace. Economic growth in turn spurred demand for air travel and increased the available resources for airlines. Greater resources increase the birth rate and decrease the likelihood of failure. The end of the Cold War also contributed to new movements calling for an increase in U.S.-Africa trade relations, with advocates pushing for a “new sustainable development” that would benefit both sides of the Atlantic. (Seidman 1992) The opening of markets post-1989 contributed to greater integration of Africa into global economy leading to growth in many sectors. Such growth spurred greater need for air travel as Africa’s economy moves more towards the new global, information-based economy. Though clearly Africa still has a long way to go, the increased emphasis on ideas and communication required in the new global marketplace has helped to also increase the need for air travel, in turn generating more resources for airlines.

Hypothesis #4: The end of apartheid in South Africa allowed for a return of Western investment and the recertification of landing rights to and from South Africa, significantly increasing birth rates and decreasing deaths rates among airlines across the continent.

The end of apartheid had both direct and indirect effects on the African Airline Industry. In terms of direct consequences, beginning as early as the 1960s, European and


other African nations restricted South Africa Airways from flying over or landing in their countries. The United States and Australia imposed these types of sanctions in the 1980s. Additionally, other airlines, including Air Canada, closed their offices in South Africa in protest of the country’s regime. Following apartheid’s end, South African Airways’ regained its landing rights, re-opening access and tickets sales to previously restricted markets around the world and by the end of 1991 had actually increased its internal African flight schedules to 11 African nations and four Indian Ocean Islands. Furthermore, the end of apartheid allowed other African carriers which had refused to land in South Africa or allow South African airline firms to fly over their airspace (notably Egypt and Kenya) regain those privileges as well. Within a few years, almost all other African nations had returned airspace rights to South African Airways and resumed normal operations to Johannesburg and Cape Town (Pirie 1992). The end of apartheid allowed for the removal of these restrictions, reopening many markets to South African Airways and also reopening routes to South African cities to other African airlines. Clearly this dramatically increased the level of air traffic and demand for air travel in Africa, both of which signaled a more lucrative environment for foundings and provided added resources so as to decrease firm failure. In addition to the direct effects on the airline industry at the end of apartheid, indirect effects characterized by overall increases in economic production also contributed to airline growth. In 1977, the United Nations passed an arms trading embargo on South Africa and larger scale efforts to sanction the country economically began gaining significant momentum. While the United States and the United Kingdom never opposed official sanctions on South Africa, many companies in North America and


Europe did voluntarily stop or reduce their investment in South Africa’s economy (Wheeler 1974). At the end of apartheid, a majority of the countries returned their investment and UN sanctions were lifted. Not only was more money directly available for African airlines, but the return of investment in other areas of society that require air travel stimulated growth in the airline industry and allowed for expansion of new routes and greater demand for passenger traffic. Perhaps the largest industry impacted by the end of sanctions and boycotts was the South African tourism industry which rebounded significantly in the post-apartheid years clearly generates a significant volume of air traffic.

Colonial Independence I also project greater African independence to increase birth rates and decrease likelihood of failure. As nations in Africa gained their independence, leaders were faced with a number of challenges, most notably trying to unify a country made up of many disparate and distinct ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. Additionally, a mentality of these nations trying to establish themselves as legitimate sovereign states in the international community also ran strong.
Hypothesis #5: Independent African nations divert resources to maintain their national airlines because they see them as a demonstration of their newly obtained national sovereignty and as a method for increasing their status in the international community. Therefore, a higher proportion of independent African nations is associated with an increased rate of births and a decreased rate of failure.


Newly minted nations wish to increase their status and view the creation of national flag carrying airlines as an easy and immediate method of increasing their status. Often they lack the requisite technical and financial resources to responsibly create airlines, but for the sake of national pride and status-development they allocate their resources towards the development of international airlines anyways. (Heymann 1962) Contributing to this were the declarations regarding the sovereignty of any country over its national airspace made at the Chicago Convention on Air Transportation in 1944 in that new countries seek to demonstrate their recently achieved sovereignty by having an airline that bears their country’s name land in other cities. (Cumming 1962) Heymann discusses how after its independence in 1958, Ghana almost immediately began to setup intra-Africa and transatlantic and trans-Indian ocean routes to places as far away as Japan; they often did this without sufficient planes, and when they did eventually acquire planes, they lacked the funds to pay for them in their treasury. Ghana wished to increase its status by becoming the main airline that connected Africa with the rest of the world and other carriers mimicked this ambition. The desire of nations to use airlines as a means of increasing their international legitimacy and state pride contributed to the birth of airlines as states were eager to have as many airlines as possible. Additionally, the commitment of governments to maintaining airlines for the sake of national pride and political legitimacy even when they were unprofitable resulted in the nationalization and public ownership or subsidization of many firms, thus significantly reducing their likelihood of failure.


Hypothesis #6: The division of colonial regions into smaller, sovereign states resulted in higher birth rates because individual countries each developed their own airline.

Independence also contributes to firm growth because large regions formerly controlled by one colonial power and in turn served by one airline, were split up into smaller, autonomous nations, each with its own airline. Two major examples of this come to mind: West African Airways Corporation (WAAC) and East African Airways Corporation (EAAC). (Cumming 1962) WAAC originally served Nigeria, the Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone, and Gambia, but soon only began to serve Nigeria as other countries developed their own airlines upon gaining independence. Thus, WAAC remained, but Ghana Airways, Sierra Leone Airways, and Gambia Air Shuttle were all created also. On the opposite side of the continent, EAAC encountered a slightly different fate as it disbanded and Kenya Airways, Air Tanzania, and Uganda Air were founded in its place once these countries gained their independence.


The African Airline Industry


The second-largest continent in the world both by land mass – 11.7 million square miles – and population – 843 million persons as of 2002 – Africa is a land of much diversity. Economically the continent ranges from the poorest in the world, such as the $500 USD GDP per capita of Sierra Leone, to that equal with many Western societies, the top of which is South Africa with a GDP per capita of $10,000 USD (United Nations). An example of this is further seen in that two-thirds of the entire continents’ GDP is accounted for by five of the fifty four countries in Africa, with South Africa and Nigeria being the only sub-Saharan countries included within that group. The diversity also manifests itself politically, as the African continent includes authoritarian dictatorships, democratic republics, socialist regimes, theocracies, and plain anarchy. Socio-culturally, Africa is equally diverse, emphasized most perhaps by the more than 2000 unique languages, plus countless dialects, spoken across the continent. To some extent, the diversity of Africa is overwhelming, and any attempt to conduct a quantitative analysis on a continent-wide basis would seem fool-hardy at best. How then is a statistical analysis of the continent’s airline industry possible? Despite the great diversity within Africa on the surface, as the world’s most under-developed continent, combined with a legacy of colonial rule and paternalism, focusing one’s scope to a specific industry is highly feasible and appropriate. One of the major linkages among African nations lies in the low population density present in most nations. Of the 198 nations and dependencies measured for population density in 2004 by the CIA, Namibia ranked 192nd with two people per square kilometer as the lowest ranked African country. At the high end, the island nation of Mauritius topped out 11th with 603 persons per square kilometer; in terms of the highest mainland country, Rwanda


came in 21st with 320 people per square kilometer. In general, African nations are well towards the lower end of the scale, and according to the UN, in 1995 Africa had an average of 243 people per 1000 hectares in 1995, roughly one half of the world’s average. The low population density of Africa means two things for air travel within the continent. First, it shows the need for flights that connect remotes parts of the continent and of individual country’s with each other. This implies the need to grow services such as commuter flights and intra-continent airlines that provide air connections between major urban and commercial hubs and remote villages and areas. Clearly, there is no expectation to connect every village in Africa with a major city using air travel, as this is both infeasible in terms of structural demands and engineering constraints, but greater connection with distant regions is desirable. The second implication of the low density is that carriers will likely face low passenger load factors on external flights for lack of concentrated populations. As of 1995, Africa’s urban population was at only 35% making it the least urbanized continent on Earth. Though there are obviously heavily concentrated cities such as Lagos, Nairobi, Cairo, and Johannesburg across the continent, in general Africa’s population is predominantly rural and is assumed to stay that way until at least 2025 according to the UN. In general, the low population density and urbanization in Africa increase the need for internal air service to connect more remote communities with large urban centers, but at the same time limit the passenger load factors on any international flights for lack of demand and feeder capabilities. Connecting these portions of the country are important for social, economic, and political reasons. Economically, African countries that contain natural resources inaccessible by other means can take advantage of these resources by utilizing air travel to reach them.


For example, the development of air travel in Ethiopia allowed for the harvesting and transport of a remote coffee-growing crop that was then exported to Europe for high value. Without air travel it would have been nearly impossible to transport workers and necessary machinery to the remote villages where these crops grew (Heymann 1962). Socially, air links provide a remedy for the isolation of some communities that are far away from vital resources such as healthcare or reliable food supplies. Politically, air travel helps to unify a country and create political stability by ensuring that the central government has direct and immediate reach over far away regions that may be geographically isolated. These factors are common to countries across Africa and in turn affect the airlines operating within those countries by confronting them with similar challenges and issues. In addition to the low population density, the low GDP per capita and economic purchasing power of most Africans makes air travel a very, very expensive luxury that is foreign to most of the population. Considering that the price of an air ticket approaches if not exceeds the entire annual income of the average citizen in most African nations, it is easy to see why air travel is well out of reach of the masses. This financial incapacitation leads to a vast under utilization of air travel in Africa. To give a view of the extent of this underutilization and lack of demand, despite having a population relatively equal to that of Europe, the total passenger-kilometers performed (the total number of additive kilometers that an airline carried passengers for in a given year) in 1985 of the top fifteen African airlines combined, was less than each of the top seven members of the IATA. To give a more complete view, consider that the sum total of the top fifteen African airlines was less than that of either United or American Airlines in the United States and is


roughly equivalent to that of Air France. Fleet size also emphasizes the small size of African airlines, as the total fleet size for the top 15 African airlines in 1985 topped out at 279, compared with American Airlines which had an individual total of 270 planes. It should also be noted that planes used by African airlines tend to be older and smaller than those used by their Western counterparts. This under utilization and lack of demand for air travel in Africa is common throughout the continent and serves as a unifying environmental factor for the analysis of the population of African air carriers. (Taneja 1989) Politically, African airlines also share a similar environment. In terms of regulation, African governments take a hard line stance against free market competition and in favor of heavily regulated fares and subsidization if not outright ownership of firms. Governments take an active hand in airlines because they realize the need for such a service and understand that due to the presence of generally only one major carrier per country, if that firm were to go bankrupt the country would lose virtually all air service. Due to this, they actively assist airlines through both direct financial means and by setting ticket prices both domestically and internationally (the latter of which is done in conference with foreign governments). In general, African governments argue that airlines provide many benefits for their nations, outside of the purely financial performance of the airline itself, and the institutions of these airlines must be preserved to ensure further development in their respective nations. Some benefits of an airline to the nation-state include the flow of people for business and tourism and the transportation of goods for international export and trade. All African airlines face tight government control and regulation on many items including types of planes, routes flown, and of


course ticket prices (Taneja 1989). Though these regulations may differ slightly depending on the individual country or countries of ownership, the industry as a whole is characterized by stiff political regulation. The other element of political environment faced by African airlines relates to the instability in the political structure of the continent. Though the relative political stability of the African continent continues to increase in recent years as institutions are setup in these societies, in general there is a great deal of uncertainty in the environment and firms must deal with the potential for vast political changes and regime shifts in their own base country or in neighboring ones, that may dramatically affect their business model. Events such as apartheid in South Africa, genocide in Rwanda and Sudan, violence in the Congo and the like all clearly impact commercial organizations such as airlines and are frequent throughout the modern history of the continent. Tied largely to this point is the shared political history of almost every African country to European imperialism. A plethora of literature exists on the colonial legacy in Africa and so I will touch on this just briefly. African nations share a legacy colonialism that generally ended in and around the 1960s by which time many of them had received their independence. Though there were some airlines present before the end of colonialism, as nation-states were created independent of their European overseers, these new countries began to create their own airlines or expand the scope of previously stifled commercial passenger airline industries. In either case, colonialism had and continues to have a profound effect on African life, the airline industry no exception.


Theoretical Background


This section provides a brief background on the study of organizations including Weber’s original study of bureaucracy, the evolutionary approach to organizational change, and population ecology, and their underlying principles.

Weberian Tradition of Organization Study Max Weber, hailed as the father of sociology – and in many respects an organizational sociologist himself – first officially documented the importance of the organization in society in his discussion on bureaucracy. Weber viewed the bureaucracy as an “iron cage” of order and rationality and his conception of such a structure exemplifies the nature of the organization in the modern society. In discussing the bureaucracy Weber wrote:

"From a purely technical point of view, a bureaucracy is capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency, and is in this sense formally the most rational known means of exercising authority over human beings. It is superior to any other form in precision, in stability, in the stringency of its discipline, and in its reliability. It thus makes possible a particularly high degree of calculability of results for the heads of the organization and for those acting in relation to it. It is finally superior both in intensive efficiency and in the scope of its operations and is formally capable of application to all kinds of administrative tasks.” (Weber, et al 1958)


Weber’s discussion of the bureaucratic structure and its efficiency and precision is supplemented by his notion that the bureaucratic apparatus has made man only one piece of a larger structure, designed for a common goal. Man still maintains his separate identity and ideas, but these are counterbalanced by the larger and more overarching goal of the organization.

“"No machinery in the world functions so precisely as this apparatus of men and, moreover, so cheaply. . .. Rational calculation . . . reduces every worker to a cog in this bureaucratic machine and, seeing himself in this light, he will merely ask how to transform himself into a somewhat bigger cog.” (Weber, et al 1958)

Ultimately, Weber views the bureaucracy as an “iron cage,” trapping individuals in a set of rules and regulations. The continuous desire of the bureaucracy to be more and more rational and efficient removes the human agency, as individuals fall prey to the plethora of rules that govern the system. Another important factor in Weber’s work lies in focus on the social, political, and historical factors when analyzing social phenomena. Weber stressed the need to examine more than just one dimension on any event. Specifically, in discussing economic events, he stresses the need to evaluate those activities that are “economically conditioned” and “economically relevant,” citing the importance of the latter because “they have consequences which are of interest from the economic point of view” (Weber, et al.1958). From this we can discern Weber’s emphasis on looking beyond any one specific factor, and instead understanding social and historical events as being affected by economics,


culture, and politics. Weber’s emphasis be applied to understanding how state independence and the post-World War Two and post-Cold War eras have affected the growth of airlines.

Adaptive and Evolutionary Theories The previously dominant theory in organization studies focuses on explaining change through organizational evolution and adaptation. Though there are many variations and spin-offs of this brand of organizational theory, the common thread linking the approaches together lies in the importance of internal firm dynamics and strategy in generating organizational change. Proponents of the adaptation approach suggest that as organizations face threats, responses, and changes in their respective environments, individual actors within these organizations will recognize these changes, devise solutions to meet them, have the resources and power to be able to do so, and eventually carry out the necessary alterations. There is agreement among all adaptation scholars that larger and older organizations are the way they are because they have been better able to adapt to the environment and accordingly, they have more effective mechanisms to deal with environmental change. Such theoretical works put a great focus on the power of agency of the individual and tend to dismiss larger structural constraints as well as issues of what if the individuals are unable to muster the resources to bring about such change. (Hannan and Freeman 1989) Below is a brief examination of some of the leading frameworks in adaptive theory. Lawrence and Lorsch (1967) outline contingency theory focuses on understanding the specific environmental factors of any organization and finding the most effective


structure for all of those contingencies. The contingency theorists argue against any one type of specific organizational structure as a cure-all universally, and instead they push for looking at the particulars of each firm, both internal and externally. They argue that the structure that works best for a small organization with only a few dozen employees operating in a highly segmented industry may work terribly for a large, multi-national organization with a large market share. Contingency theory heavily stresses size and technology as important factors in determining the most effective structure for a given organization. Another major approach to evolutionary theory involves Pfeffer and Salacinik’s resource dependency approach (1978). This theory focuses on the role that external actors play in giving resources to organizations, and states that organizations will react differently to different environmental actors relative to the degree which they provide resources necessary for the organization to function. Likewise, all organizations will continually try to minimize their dependence on outside sources, though in reality it is impossible to fully be independent. Resource allocation clearly impacts airlines and most often comes in the form of revenue from passenger sales and financial investment from either governments or private parties. Though organizations are responding to phenomena outside of themselves, the change and evolution in the organization’s structure occurs from within. More specifically, as organizations are faced with these outward challenges, it is the actors within the organization that make decisions (all while jockeying within their own internal power structures) on how to adjust the resource allocation and consumption structure of the organization itself, so as to best respond to the environmental changes.


A final major framework on organizational evolution involves neo-institutional theory, which focuses on the role that society-wide social norms and conceptualizations of what is considered a “legitimate” organization play and how they are diffused within the organizational environment (Meyer and Rowan 1977; Powell and DiMaggio 1991) In turn, organizations respond and emulate these norms in order to be seen as legitimate actors within the social context and as eligible receivers of resources. Though similar in the focus on resource acquisition to resource dependency theory, neo-institutionalism puts less emphasis on the internal processes of grappling for power and control in order to be able to allocate the resources that Pfeffer and Salacinik discuss, and more on the interaction between and among peer organizations while taking into consideration a degree of structural processes. Specifically applicable to this project is the concept of legitimacy of a given environment. In order to be eligible for resources from institutional actors, an organization must be viewed as legitimate by those actors. African airlines gained their legitimacy through the development of the IATA and ICAO and their interaction with the governments. In addition, as more and more airlines joined the industry, the organizational form was viewed as more legitimate and received more resources. In this way, greater density does not necessarily lead to more competition but also greater chances of survival as the industry on a whole has more resources from greater legitimacy. The neo-institutional theorists also demonstrate how smaller, newer organizations will imitate and copy the processes of larger, older, and more successful organizations within their field in order to meet expectations of legitimacy so as to be able to acquire resources to grow; this process of imitation is known as isomorphism. Institutionalists also emphasize how government policies and regulations, professional


networks and trade organizations facilitate the development and diffusion of norms within an organizational population and among society in general. This point underscores the significance of the IATA, ICAO, and governments in helping to establish the legitimacy of the airline industry.

Population Ecology Theory The ecological approach to organizations focuses on analyzing dynamics at play between organizations rather than within the organizations themselves. While ecologists do agree that humans have a certain amount of agency to change organizations from the inside out, ecologists generally assume a large degree of structural inertia in organizations and do not expect significant changes in the nature or structure of any single firm over its lifespan. Instead, they examine diversity at the population level and explain the variance within a population as a result of constant changes in the population itself as firms with different structures and processes constantly enter and exit the market; within a market, greater entries suggest more diversity as new forms are introduced and greater exits imply less diversity as unsuccessful forms are weeded out. Ecologists view populations of organizations as those firms sharing a similar environment and explain the entry and exit of members as a result of the underlying social, economic, and political processes at work. As environmental conditions shift, the processes relating to founding and failure change as well (Hannan and Freeman 1977). With the understanding of these foundations and that population ecology views organizational populations as in constant flux – with continuous births and deaths of


organizational actors – I move to examine the factors that ecologists view as governing these birth and death processes.

Density Dependence Ecologists assume that carrying capacities – the total number of organizations that a given environment can maintain – to change slowly because the structural constraints on any social system limit the number of organizations of a certain form. Assuming that carrying capacities are relatively fixed and change little in the short term, the size of the population – its density – is an important variable to consider when evaluating organizational dynamics. In turn, ecologists view founding and failure rates as density dependent; they change with changes in the population size. But, before proceeding into the nature of these changes, I must first clarify the meaning of density. Because selection models seek to examine the dynamics at play between organizations in a given environment they conceptualize density as the total number of firms in the environment. I undertake a similar approach and measure the density of African airlines as the total number of firms rather than by fleet size, total employees, or economic production. My justification for using the total number of firms as opposed to another measure is two-pronged. First, the practical constraint of data collection limits the other available measures of densities to a more limited time span, leaving out a portion of the industry’s history. More importantly however, because I am interested in studying inter-organizational dynamics, aggregate measures of production such as passenger kilometers performed do not provide adequate insight into population level dynamics and provide only a general snapshot of the industry as a whole. Accordingly, in


the footsteps of previous ecologists, I use the total number of firms as the measure of density for airlines as well. Moving forward with the understanding of density as the number of firms, let us evaluate how density impacts the birth and death rates of organizations. Initially, ecologists view density as having a positive effect on birth rates, with higher densities resulting in a higher number of births, but as density reaches very high levels (the carrying capacity) density is predicted to have a negative effect. This split effect of density renders the overall effect as non-monotonic. The justification for why density initially results in initial growth centers on two main pieces: the expansion of requisite knowledge for firm creation through networks that expand with higher density and increase processes of institutional legitimation and support. On the first point, ecologists argue that information to start organizations is reserved for those who are within the established organizational networks; these individuals are referred to by Hannan and Freeman as “insiders”. Specifically in organizations that are largely absent from the mainstream public eye in industries where there is little outside scrutiny or insight, the relevant knowledge regarding structure, processes, and other integral components to starting an organization is tightly controlled in the networks of established organizations. And though this applies especially to organizations without a large public profile, even in fields that do garner public attention, it would be difficult to be a total outside and come from an entirely different field and be able to successfully found an organization without first having at least some type of experience or knowledge about how the industry works and how best to strategically structure and position one’s self to effectively compete for resources. In the frame of the


variations discussed previously, even though different organizations will adopt different variations and will fare on how effectively their respective variations position that organization to acquire resources, all of these variations are at least considered feasible and reasonable methods of approach; that is, these variations were developed not out of the blue, but after having knowledge of the field and looking at other organizations’ efforts at acquiring resources. Thus, it can be understood that “insider information” into the processes and dynamics (whether they be economic, social, political, institutional, or the like) at play within a given industry are essential to creating an organization. The role of insider information now understood, how then does this relate to density dependence within an organizational population? As discussed, the key to gaining insider information lies in exploiting the organizational networks at place within an industry. The best position to be in to exploit the knowledge and information of these networks is to have a job within an organization in the network, and thus the greater number of jobs in an industry leads to a larger number of individuals with the requisite skills to build and maintain organizations (Brittain and Freeman 1980). A grater number of firms in an industry can be seen to increase the number of jobs in an industry, which in turn increases the number of individuals who can be characterized as “organizational builders.” Likewise, more firms within a given organizational field strengthen the networks at play and allows for the easier and more diffused flow of information within these networks (Marrett 1980). A second reason for the density-birth rate link relates to the growth of institutional legitimization. In industries with smaller number of firms the degree of institutional support and legitimacy for firms is low. This lack of institutional support and necessity to


fight for legitimacy makes the acquisition of resources more difficult as they must justify their presence and usefulness in the environment. This difficulty in acquiring resources and lack of social legitimacy creates more obstacles and barriers to achieving success and accordingly the entrepreneurial attitude needed to create more firms is absent and leads to less foundings. An example of this dynamic at work can be seen in the young commercial spaceflight industry which at the present time has only a few companies in it as a result of the large cost to get involved, the lack of a profit at the present time, and the skepticism from the public at success. As the industry grows, the government may provide incentives for organizations to start in this field or profitability of firm currently operating may spur new growth. Likewise, once commercial space flights are launched and the public sees that product actually in place and that it can be done safely, the industry’s customer base will grow. On the opposite side of the spectrum, large industries with many firms have much greater institutional support and social legitimacy, and would see higher birth rates because of this. Such legitimacy is especially evident in taken-forgranted industries where the organizational form is considered a normal and natural part of society. For such organizations, there is often a great deal of support from government agencies and a large customer base to draw profits. A fine example of such an industry would be the modern day fast-food restaurant, which sees a great deal of foundings each year as it is very popular among the mass population and makes tremendous profits. Many organizations are founded each year in this industry as they believe they can receive sufficient institutional support to survive. While expanded information networks and increased institutional legitimacy may contribute to initial increase in density, as density grows too large and the number of


firms reaches the carrying capacity, intense competition leads to a scarcity of resources and a decline in birth rates. Carrying capacity constitutes a range of population size that a given industry, above which point growth is negative. . In industries where there are restrictions (whether natural or artificial) that limit the number of firms or the potential number of customers, firms are less likely to be founded in industries that are close to or at these capacities. The reasoning behind this lies with the principle that as an industry reaches its carrying capacity – that is the maximum number of firms that it can hold – then organizations will start to fail at much higher rates as there is less of or none of the pie available. Looking towards the cell phone industry in North America and Europe this dynamic illustrates itself nicely. Because there is a finite population of people in each of these regions and since it is reasonable to assume that each individual will only need one cell phone, eventually the market for new cell phones will become very small. Accordingly, there will be very few new customers to compete for and companies will begin to suffer from lack of new sales. Investors and entrepreneurs would likely feel more trepidation to investing in such a market as the likelihood for failure is higher. From this example we can see how while greater density does support a higher birthrate initially, at some point there will be a decline as resources become too scarce to justify new births. Mirroring the density processes that govern birth rates, selections theorists envision similar processes regulating disbanding rates of organizations as well. The theoretical model proposed originally by Hannan and Freeman and later tested and substantiated by other studies draws on a number of different factors that affect disbanding at different density levels. They conclude that failures will occur when


density is low because of the lack of legitimating the organizational form faces from the prevailing environment. If there are low numbers of airlines then the resources that the firms need to survive will be less accessible as the organizational form of the airline itself struggles to gain legitimacy and solidify instutionalized support for its form. For the airline industry, physical facilities such as commercial airports or landing strips as well as financial structures such as governments or investment firms often are reluctant in their desire to assist an industry that has only a few members. As the population of firms grows key institutional actors are more apt to support the industry as a whole and the networks and mechanisms for acquiring resources, as well as the allocation of the resources themselves are solidified as a result of greater legitimacy for the organizational form. At lower densities, with less institutional support organizations have a greater likelihood of failure as they cannot acquire the necessary resources; at higher densities, once the industry or form has gained legitimacy, firms are less likely to fail due to lack of available resources. Though initial increases in density help an organizational form to achieve institutional legitimacy and support, higher densities come with problems of their own. Specifically, as an organizational population reaches a higher density, competition increases and firms are fighting off more competitors for a limited set of resources. Hannan and Freeman point to increases in both direct competition between individual firms and diffused competition among the population in general, as density rises. Direct competition rises within the airline industry occur as individual airlines directly compete with a competitor in specific markets. For example, as more airlines were founded in South Africa, the market between Johannesburg to Cape Town went from two carriers


(South African Airways and Commercial Air) to more than a dozen. While there may be some increase in overall demand for seats on that route due to population increases and a general rise in air travel, in all likelihood there was not such a rise to the degree of increase that occurred. This is a prime example of the increase in diffused competition that occurs with increased density, just as the entrance of East African Safari Airways Limited into Precision Air Services market between Nairobi, Kenya and Arusha, Tanzania for ferrying safari vacationers back and forth was an example of increased density leading to increases in direct competition. Selection theory stipulates that as though initial increase in density reduce failure rates, once density reaches a specific point (the carrying capacity that was discussed earlier) higher density leads to increase disbanding rates as competition becomes to intense and resources become scarce. In considering the effects of legitimization and competition mechanism in regards to density, the curve describing failure rates as they relate to density mirrors the same non-monotonic curve that characterized density and birth rates.

Waves of Foundings and Failures Ecologists predict that foundings and failures of organizations occur in waves, depicted by a non-monotonic curve. Foundings in the preceding year signals a lucrative environment for airline founding as resources are seen ample enough to support new growth. Examples of this in the airline industry focus on the expansion of routes to new markets that were previously not served or under-capacity. Potential entrepreneurs are persuaded to found firms when times are good in order to take advantage of potential profits. As the number of births increases to very large numbers however, potential


entrepreneurs may be dissuaded from founding firms in response to the potential of resource exhaustion. Investors believe that the large number of airline foundings over recent years in a specific market may soon spell overcapacity in that market and thus be hesitant that their company will be able to acquire the necessary resources to survive in the long-term. In general, smaller waves of foundings are seen to positively impact birth rates, but extremely large numbers of births are depress birth rates, or at the very least not increase them as much as smaller numbers of births do. Complementing the waves of births, ecologists also theorize that waves of failures affect populations in a similar manner. Though a few failures may not have any effect on the population as a whole, the failure of many organizations in the previous year signals that the environment is inhospitable and generates a lack of confidence in the airline industry as a whole. A small number of failures is viewed as not signaling an industry or form-wide failure as the resources and facilities vacated by the now defunct firm are available to its former competitors and may allow that firm to survive. Disbanded airlines often leave behind flying rights between specific cities, empty terminals and planes, or out of work employees, all of which can be used by airlines that are still operating and may be able to prevent these firms from dying or by new firms that enter the market. But, as the number of disbandings reaches very high levels, it acts as a signal that times for airlines are bad and that there are not sufficient resources to sustain all the firms in the environment. Also plausible is that the current organizational form is misaligned with the environment. Other institutional actors such as governments, investors, or third party organizations may become increasingly cautious in supporting airlines and reduce their levels of support, which further reduces available resources and


increases death rates. Many firm failures in a given year suggest that the airline industry may be weak due to overcapacity, lack of demand, or other reasons, in turn decreasing institutional support and making firm failure more likely in subsequent years.

Age Dependence Another factor that affects failure rates of organizations is age dependence in individual firms. Research has shown that younger firms face a “liability of newness” as they struggle for legitimacy in the environment and face greater threat of mortality until they establish themselves (Hannan and Freeman 1988). Even in established industries or organizational forms, younger organizations face a much fiercer battle for resources until they can ritualize their methods of resource acquisition. Contrastingly, while older organizations do face a certain liability of becoming outdated and becoming obsolete for their environment, they do not face the battle for resources that younger organizations face as they have established and ritualized methods of acquiring the necessary resources. Likewise, older organization command institutional legitimacy as they often form a foundational role in the environment and should their mortality be in danger, institutional actors within the environment may act to protect older organizations in fear of large scale environmental or operational changes if they were to disappear. A prime example of this is if the so-called “legacy” airlines in the United States were to fail; the government has provided loans and assumed pensions to prevent these legacy carriers from liquidating because such failure would lead to a catastrophic impact on the U.S. by both reducing domestic traffic and cutting off the country from international routes to Europe and Asia. Similar effects occur in African nations as many countries have only one or two carriers


that provide air service between that country and the outside world; the end of such routes would dramatically affect these nations economically, politically and socially. With any airline, international routes, specifically those to Europe and North America are governed by a complex set of negotiated treaties between nations that grant individual carriers permission to fly these routes. Because most of these treaties were negotiated in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, many younger carriers do not have permission to fly international routes as they are reserved for the older carriers. And, because an end or interruption in international service to Europe and North America, as well as to regional centers such as South Africa or Nigeria, would be extraordinarily detrimental to any country, the airlines who fly those routes (who are older in firm age by design) would receive more institutional support should they appear likely to fail; this reduces their likelihood of failure. Circumstances such as these are especially prevalent in Africa where almost all national flag carriers were established decades ago and are state-run, funded, or heavily subsidized.


Data and Methods

This section provides an account of the methods and procedures involved in carrying out the analysis of the African airlines. Specifically I discuss collection of the


data, formatting of the variables, and the processes of regression. Additionally, particular attention is paid to the difficulty in acquiring data from under-developed nations which lack standardized and routine mechanisms for collecting reliable annual data.

Defining the Population A major issue continuously discussed in population ecology literature deals with one of the most fundamental issues with any population-level study – the definition of the population itself. The researcher faces a precarious position in defining the population. On one hand, he does not want to define the parameters of the population so narrowly as to limit the number of cases and exclude potentially valuable data in the overall experiment. Such exclusions can lead to an incomplete understanding of the ecological processes occurring within a given population. Oppositely, the researcher does not want to define the population so large as to include organizations that are substantively different in both structure and environmental. Defining the field too broadly and including too many (different) types of organizations also runs the risk of making data collection difficult. In discussing population definition, Hannan and Freeman offer the following insight:

“A population of organizations has a unitary character in this sense if its members are affected similarly by changes in the environment, including other populations. So ecological analyses of organizations assume that populations can be identified in such a way that member organizations exhibit very similar environmental dependencies.” (Hannan and Freeman 1989)


Deferring to Hannan and Freeman, operating environment is essential to correctly defining the population. First, it is necessary to define the operating unit, in this case the passenger airline. All of the data on African airlines and those airlines of other continents refers to primarily passenger based firms and excludes those who do solely cargo or shipping based business. The selection of firms for this analysis was limited to those companies that had at least 10 percent of their scheduled services in passenger traffic each year. This does not serve as an especially constricting criterion, as the vast majority of African airlines deal in both passengers and commercial cargo transport. Additionally, I incorporate both scheduled (i.e. regular commercial) and non-scheduled (i.e. charter) airlines. While some may consider these two types of firms to be substantively different, within the still developing African airline industry, charter firms serve both leisure and commercial needs – the same as scheduled carriers. Additionally, charter and scheduled airlines operate under the same general restrictions (i.e. safety and maintenance standards and flight routes) and face similar hurdles (i.e. under-demand and high prices for fuel). The lack of substantive and regulatory difference faced by charter and scheduled carriers allows for an aggregate analysis of both together.

Data Collection and Reliability of Sources Collecting data on Africa is a difficult task in of itself, and collecting data on historical events on the continent proves an even greater challenge. While reliable and


easily accessible data on airline firm founding and death is easily available in Western countries, it is much more difficult to obtain on Africa. Two major problems emerge in the collection of data: 1) lack of reliable recorded data, and 2) inaccessibility of the data. African nations and governments are becoming increasingly efficient at recording figures ranging form citizen education-level to financial acquisition between firms, however such efforts are relatively recent in much of the continent and outside of South Africa and some West African nations, very little recorded official data pertinent to airlines exists before the 1950s. Even if such data does exist it is often not available online or in hard text format in the United States or Europe and may exist only in a small room in an obscure department in the country itself. Because such detailed data collection far exceeds the bounds and resources afforded to this thesis project, I have had to rely on the best available data in print and online sources. The primary resource used to compile the original list of airlines in Africa was the IATA’s annual World Air Transport Statistics (WATS) that has been published and compiled annually since 1956. These data books contain a wealth of information ranging on both the aggregate and individual airline level for all of the IATA’s member airlines. All of largest airlines in Africa by passenger traffic are members of the IATA but virtually none of the smaller airlines are. Additionally, though IATA keeps reliable data on the membership status of airline in its database (whether or not it is a full member, an associate member, or has relinquished membership), there are many occasions when an airline will give up membership in IATA but still remain in operation. Likewise, some airlines do not gain entrance into the IATA until meeting certain minimal standards, which may not occur until several years (or even decades) after their original founding.


Thus, while WATS provides an excellent starting point for data collection in the industry, the annual membership list must be corroborated with other data sources in order to develop a fully comprehensive picture of firm foundings and failures, because they do not necessarily coincide with IATA membership dates. To supplement the IATA data and determine the actual lifespan of specific firms a number of other sources were used. First and most frequently, data was gathered by searching LexisNexis Media search engine for firm names to find the pertinent dates and years of company foundings, failures, mergers, acquisitions, and so on. A great deal of data was uncovered and clarified using LexisNexis and other media related search engines, however the problem with this method is that in order to search for a given firm it is necessary to have the name of the firm itself, and even with the IATA data many firms were still excluded. To rectify this exclusion a number of independently run, thirdparty websites were utilized to gain the names and in some cases general date ranges of airlines. Websites such as AirTimes, Wikipedia, Airline History, and Air-Dir may seem dubious as academic resources at first glance, but in an industry that lacks accessible and well-documented records such as the African airline industry, they are often the only source for a researcher to begin. Furthermore, data was acquired from such sources only when it could be verified with additional sources such as the company’s website, WATS, media outlets, or independent reports. As is now obvious, unlike the study of other industries, specifically those in Europe or North America, the lack of a singularly responsible regulatory body or trade organization that regulates this industry, makes it quite arduous to collect data.


As for the quality of the data set, as the primary investigator I am quite confident in its reliability and can testify to its validity for the uses in this project. It took hundreds of hours to compile, and data was constantly checked and double-checked to ensure the greatest degree of accuracy possible. That said, as with any empirical study some things were missed and it would be a lie to say that the data reflects the industry at any given point with 100 percent accuracy. While the data was compiled with the greatest available resources, clearly a researcher with greater time and money could compile a more comprehensive and inclusive data set by traveling to each of the African nations and investigating their own corporate records departments or interviewing airline employees. For the requirements and limitations – in both resources and time – this data set provides a fair and reasonable picture of the industry and goes well beyond satisfying the minimum acceptable standards for data. In short, the vast majority of airlines with some trace in public records or private databases are included in the data set and the subsequent analysis provides a very accurate picture of the industry’s dynamics.

Variables Below is a list of the variables included in the analysis. All variables were standardized and formatted as specified. For the sake of formatting and visual appearance, all tables and graphs related to the data are included in the Appendix. Full data files used the project are available by request from the author.

Density. Density is measured as of January 1 of the given year in total number of individual firms. While clearly a more precise date measure would be ideal, the limits


imposed on data collection as described above do not make it feasible at the current time. Minimum value is 0, maximum value is 164.

Density in the Previous Year. Density is measured as of January 1 of the year prior to the given year in total number of individual firms. Minimum value is 0, maximum value is 156.

Number of Births. This variable measures the number of births between January 1 and December 31 of the given year. Data is measured in number of individual firms. Minimum value is 0, maximum value is 22.

Number of Births in the Previous Year. This variable measures the number of births between January 1 and December 31 of the year prior to the given year. Data is measured in number of individual firms. Minimum value is 0, maximum value is 22.

Number of Deaths. This variable measures the number of deaths between January 1 and December 31 of the given year. Data is measured in number of individual firms. Minimum value is 0, maximum value is 9.

Number of Births in the Previous Year. This variable measures the number of deaths between January 1 and December 31 of the year prior to the given year. Data is measured in number of individual firms. Minimum value is 0, maximum value is 9.


Proportion of Independent African Nations. The variable noting proportion of independent African nations out of a total of 54 as of January 1 of the given year. Data was obtained from Encyclopedia Britannica online and though precise date data is available, for the sake of continuity it is measured at the annual level. Minimum value is 0.056, maximum value is 1.000.

Population of Africa. The population variable was obtained from the United Nations Annual Yearbook as well as the population estimates projected by the United Nations from 1950. Because the time period also extends to 1933, it was necessary to interpolate the population on a linear model from 1930 to 1950. The population estimate for 1930 of 200 million people was obtained by calculating a calculation of a global population of 2.07 billion in that year and an estimated population percentage of 9.6% of the world’s population in Africa. The 9.6% rate is based on the United Nations estimates which have 8.1% of the population of the world in Africa as of 1900 and 12.9% of the population in 2000, and assume steady growth in population throughout the period. Though not an exact measure of population it does provide one in line with other models and is the best approach possible considering no official numbers are available from a census at that time. Population from 1950 onwards is very reliable as it was obtained from the United Nations. The population is expressed in millions of people. Minimum value is 204, maximum value is 906.


Post-World War Two Period. This variable measures the period after World War Two and begins in 1947 until 2005. Data is coded as one (1) for the years from 1947 onwards and as zero (0) for years 1933-1946.

Post-Cold War Period. This variable measures the post-Cold War period from 19902005, as signaled by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Data is coded as one (1) for the years from 1990 onwards and as zero (0) for the years 1933-1989.

Time Trend. This variable serves as a control in the birth analysis and ranges from 1-73.

Industry Age. This variable is very similar to time trend but measures the age of the industry as of January 1 of the given year. Minimum value is 0, maximum value is 72.

Firm Age. This variable measures the age of the firm as of January 1 on the given year and is coded as a whole, real number. Minimum value is 0, maximum value is 72.

Disbanding. Used only in the failures analysis this variable is coded as zero (0) if the event did not happen and as one (1) if the event did happen. Dates of disbanding come from the same data used in the “Number of Deaths in the Current Year” variable. Minimum value is 0, maximum value is 1.

Analyzing Foundings Using Poisson Regression


Poisson regression is used to model the birth processes of the population as it is the most easily used method for modeling an arrival process. Arrival processes are extremely effective at modeling events that signal the arrival from one state to another, in this case the arrival being the birth of the organization from previous non-existence (Hannan and Freeman 1987). The Poisson model separates the period of time during which arrivals occur into different temporal or spatial regions and relies on the assumption that the arrivals in one time interval are independent of previous or subsequent regions creating a model of time-independence. The basic model of a simple Poisson process is shown below:

Λy (t) = lim Pr [Y(t + ∆t) – Y(t) = 1[Y(t) = y] = Λ,


This elementary Poisson model is not sufficient for use in analyzing the foundings of organizations, and drawing on previous work it is necessary to add in additional variables.

Analyzing Failures Using Logistic Regression Unlike the birth analysis however, which took the unit of analysis of the individual year and measured variables in aggregate, the death analysis concentrates on the individual firm-year level – separating each year or portion of a year that a firm is in existence as a separate observation. The dependent variable in question relies on the


event history analysis form of modeling which focuses on a binary code of whether a given event happened to a specific organization at a specific point in time, or if it did not. The event for this study is whether or not the airline disbanded in a given year. As mentioned above, the model for performing a death analysis uses the event history analysis framework for analyzing the likelihood of disbanding. Event history analysis allows for the analysis of the causes for the occurrence of an event when looking at a set of variables that affect the outcome. The key element of any discrete-time event history analysis (of which this study is one, as data is measured not in continuous seconds but on an annual basis) is the hazard rate, which is the likelihood that the given event (disbanding) will happen to a given individual (airline) at a given time (year) based on calculating the relative effect of other variables. The hazard rate is the fundamental dependent variable in an event history analysis mode; in this case it describes the likelihood that a firm will fail in a given year. Logistic regression is the most accepted method in an event history analysis and is used in this analysis.


Results and Discussion

Organizational Foundings


In general the findings from the Poisson regression aligns with previous studies n population ecology. All eleven models shows first-order density as having the projected effect of increasing the number foundings as seen in the positive coefficient associated with each. This supports the ecologists’ conclusion that higher densities (prior to the carrying capacity) encourage firm founding through increased legitimatization effects. In all, first-order density showed very significant (p<0.01) in two models and significant (p<0.05) in an additional four models. Second-order density was included in only one of the models as it was shown to have an extremely small positive effect on the number of births. One explanation for this is that the population of airlines has not yet fully matured, and the population hasn’t yet reached ample size for the second-order effects to become apparent. Supporting this are two additional pieces of evidence. First, in the study of labor unions, the initial, smaller decline in density occurred when the population reached approximately 180 unions, and the later, larger decline occurred at population 211 (Hannan and Freeman 1987). The number of airline firms only recently is approaching the former of those numbers with a population in 2005 of 167 firms, suggesting that the carrying capacity of the airline population may not yet have been reached and that this current project measures only the pre-carrying capacity environment. The second point, also illustrating a lack of full maturity of the industry considers is the age of the industry itself. The passenger airline industry in Africa is only 74 years old this year and the first decline in the labor union population occurred between 70 and 80 years after the first labor union was founded. This also suggests that perhaps the negative second-order density effects will begin to manifest themselves more clearly within the next few years. That said, I do not mean to suggest that all organizational


populations have similar ages and sizes at full maturity – clearly this is not the case as a study on semi-conductor firms showed maturity at industry year 30 and a population size of 325 firms (Hannan and Freeman 1989). Rather, I suggest that is possible that not enough annual observations have occurred among airlines to fully observe they secondorder effects of density and a longer period of observation is justified. Following a similar pattern to density dependence, birth’s in the previous year also has a positive first-order effect and a small second-order positive effect. Neither birth variable ever has a significant effect at any level, and because of this and due to the very small positive effect of second-order births shown in Model Two, the second-order variable was excluded from the reminder of the models. Though first-order births do not attain significant levels of interaction in the model, the positive coefficient suggests alignment with traditional ecological models in that waves of births contribute positively to number of births. Perhaps with a longer time period to study births, the second-order effect would achieve significance and demonstrate the non-monotonic effect to its full degree as shown in other studies. While the number of births in the previous year does not achieve statistical significance in any of the models, the number of deaths in the preceding year attains significance in every model. The prominence and stability of the significance of the death variable highlights its importance among African airlines. With the exception of Model 1, which excludes the second-order effects, all of the models in the birth analysis show first-order deaths as significant and second-order deaths as very significant. Models 2 through Model 11 illustrate the non-monotonic effects of the number of deaths in the previous year; the first-order effect has a positive coefficient, thus increasing births,


whereas the second-order effect has a negative coefficient, decreasing births. This suggests that as described in the theoretical model, firms do not consider a small number of deaths as a sign detracting from entry as many of the structures and facilities that the recently deceased firms used can be easily acquired and utilized by the new entrants. Facilities such as hangers, employees, and planes all can be easily retooled to accommodate the new firms. Additionally, industry-wide resources are still seen as plentiful enough to constitute and support new growth. However, as the number of deaths approaches high levels, firms see this as a signal of the environment’s incompatibility and of the scarcity of resources – depressing the number of foundings. The strength of the coefficient (ranging from 0.210 to 0.280) shows that death has a powerful effect on predicting the number of births and implies that potential entrants to the African airline market keep attuned to the failure of firms. In periods with few numbers of deaths, firms must move quickly to enter the industry and acquire the facilities and resources of the recently-disbanded firms. With the addition of more years of coverage as the industry continues to develop, the current dynamics of non-monotonic death variables should remain the same. In addition to the effects of density, death, and births, the later models also evaluate the effects that this project focuses on. Greater Africa independence was believed to positively impact birth rates as administrative regions were split up into individual countries each wanting their own airline, and the newly formed governments sought to exercise their power by creating airlines. However, in each of the four models that included a measure of independence, there was no statistical significance, and in three of the four models independence demonstrates a negative coefficient. Upon closer


examination of the data of specific firms, some airlines that were created in colonial Africa to serve vast regions of colonial territory were disbanded following the end of colonial rule to create more individualized state-based firms. A good example of this is East African Airways Corporation, which was founded in 1946 and disbanded in 1977. In the same year it was dissolved, three new companies – Uganda Air, Kenya Airways, and Air Tanzania – were all formed, each representing an individual country within the region that East African Airways Corporation had previously served. This suggests that the effect of the independence variable may be captured in the death variable because many of the firms that died resulted in new births, similar to the situation as that of East African Airways. Thus, independence may indeed have an effect, but that effect would be the breaking up of larger multi-national, regional level firms which in turn lead to the creation of national airlines. The variable measuring the post-World War Two era from 1947 onwards has a positive coefficient and retains statistical significance in each of the four models. The coefficient ranges from 0.775 to 1.124 which indicates that 1947 to 2005 has a positive correlation to firm foundings for a variety of reasons. As discussed previously, the justification for this effect is two-fold: the application of new technologies to a booming industry and the establishment of greater legitimacy within the industry itself. The mass production and usage of aircraft during World War Two continued after its end as air travel became a safe and reliable form of transportation. World War Two effectively served as a testing ground for new aircraft technology which in the post-war period was applied to civilian markets in Africa that already had the necessary infrastructure. Secondly, the development of the IATA and ICAO in the mid-1940s greatly increased the


legitimacy of airlines as an organizational form and through the interaction with governments contributed to greater confidence in the industry by key institutional actors such as governments, financiers, and consumers. The end of World War Two also signaled the beginning of the end of colonialism as India gained its independence in 1947. This goes to reinforce the arguments made in discussing independence. The variable measuring the effect of the post-Cold War era (1990-2005) on airline foundings was added simultaneously into the same models that included the post-World War Two (1946-2005) variable, thus creating a 16 year overlap when both variables were being considered as in effect. Constructing the model in this way allows for the analysis to determine if the post-Cold War variable has an additional effect beyond that of the post-World War Two era. As seen in the regression table, the coefficient measuring the end of the Cold War has a positive coefficient (ranging between 0.353 and 0.644) indicating that it contributes to firm foundings from 1990 onwards, and retain statistical significance in three of the four models. And, because the variable is taken into account simultaneously as the overlapping post-World War Two period, the variable supports the above theoretical argument that the end of socialist and authoritarian regimes on the continent as a whole, as well as more specifically the end of apartheid in South Africa all contributed to the opening of markets and re-establishment of air routes that generated significant amounts of growth and opportunities for new firms

Organizational Failures


The logistic regression analysis produced six models, each incorporating a different set of variables; all models are included in Table 1.2. The results from the statistical analysis provided some interesting, if surprising, results. As noted, population density is excepted to have a non-monotonic effect on the death rate of a population, with smaller densities causing a lower death rate as legitimatization of the organizational form increases, but higher densities leading to a greater likelihood of death as competition increases near the carrying capacity and resources become too scarce to allow all firms to survive. This leads to an expectation that the first-order effect of density should have a negative coefficient as it decreases the likelihood of death and the second-order coefficient should have a positive (or at the very least a negative coefficient of less magnitude than the first-order effect). Among African airlines, the first-order density coefficient remains positive in each of the six models and achieves statistical significance in all but one. This runs opposite to the predicted result as it implies that increases in first-order density lead to an increase in the likelihood of failure, opposing the legitimating explanation devised by Hannan and Freeman. Secondorder density proves highly sensitive to additional variables and provides inconclusive results, though it does produce a positive (albeit non-significant) coefficient in Model 5. This at least partially agrees with Hannan and Freeman in that a positive second-order positive coefficient suggests that competitive processes that take hold at higher densities increase the likelihood of failure, but should not be taken as convincing evidence. The other model including second-order density results in a variable that is very, very slightly negative (-0.001) suggesting that larger densities may inhibit firm failure. Explanations of both of these occurrences in the coefficients cannot be fully explained without more


in-depth research, but the significance of first order density suggests that population may indeed play a role in predicting failure among airlines. All of the models also include lagged births as a variable. In none of these models do lagged births show any degree of statistical significance, and the coefficients are consistently negative, suggesting that an increase in births in the previous year decreases the likelihood of firm failure in a given year. Because the results do not show significance and because Hannan and Freeman do not include this variable in their original analysis it is unclear as to its role at this time. As predicted in Hannan and Freeman, firm age has a significant effect on failure likelihood, with an increase in age being correlated to a decrease in likelihood of failure. This follows the theoretical conclusion regarding the “liability of newness” and the fact that older firms have established legitimacy in the environment and accordingly have an easier time acquiring the necessary resources to prevent failure. Firm age is the only variable that remains statistically significant in all six models and its coefficient remains steady right around -0.020. That data also at least partially reinforces Hannan and Freeman’s belief in waves of failure. The first-order lagged deaths variable does not show significance in any of the models and has a negative coefficient in three of the give models.. The two cases which had positive first-order coefficients were also the two models that included second-order coefficients measuring deaths in the previous year; in each of these two models the deaths lagged second order coefficient was negative, with one of the models showing the second-order coefficient as statistically significant as well. This suggests that the negative deaths coefficients may in fact be non-monotonic, but with opposite signs as


originally predicted. When only the first-order variable is included, the coefficients for lagged deaths are negative, opposing Hannan and Freeman’s original finding, in that more airline deaths in the previous year decrease the likelihood of failure. However, when adding the squared variable in, the sign on the first-order coefficient switches and previous death contributes to greater likelihood of failure. Contrastingly, second order lagged deaths includes a negative sign, suggesting that very large amounts of death in a year decrease a firm’s likelihood for failure. Hannan and Freeman’s original analysis did not include a second-order lagged deaths variable and so it is impossible to provide a full explanation effect but the cause may be the result of so few deaths (only 43 events) occurring throughout the entire time period, as compared to Hannan and Freeman who encountered 191 total disbandings. The population of Africa variable retains a consistently negative coefficient suggesting that population decreases risk of firm failure. This makes sense as population increases would lead to increases in demand for air travel and raise load factors thus increasing available resources for firm consumption. Out of the four models which include population, two show the variable as statistically significant. When industry age is added in (Model 4) population loses significance, which suggests that the two variables are correlated. Because of the redundancy of including both, industry age was excluded in the subsequent models and population regained significance in Model 6. There was no need to include both population and industry age as the variables effectively cancel each other out. The results regarding the political period effects are mixed, with the post-World War Two period and measure of African independence retaining statistical significance,


but the post-Cold War period not. The post-World War Two variable demonstrates a negative coefficient and is considered statistically significant, justifying the theoretical argument addressed earlier. The establishment of the IATA and ICAO as well as other organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF contributed to legitimacy of the industry and established paths for resource acquisition. Greater ease in acquiring resources allowed firms to stay alive for longer and decreased likelihood of disbanding. Third-party organizations such as the IATA and ICAO helped to legitimate the organizational form to the outside world and thus allowed the firms to garner more resources. Likewise, the application of post-war technological advances in aviation allowed firms to run more efficiently and were easily applied to the African market due to colonial-era aviation infrastructure. The other period effect (post-Cold War from 1990-2005) also demonstrated a negative coefficient, showing that firms during this period had a decreased likelihood of failure above and beyond any effect of the post-World War variable as the variables were applied in overlapping time frames – and it did show significance at the p<0.20 level, but was above the statistical threshold for this project. Firms in the post-Cold War era were able to decrease their chance of disbanding by taking advantage of greater resource opportunities provided by the opening of markets following the end of authoritarian and socialist regimes that previously limited investment. Additionally, the end of apartheid in South Africa led a return of much Western foreign investment and aid as well as previously forfeited air traffic routes, which provided additional resources, decreasing scarcity and improving survival likelihood. One reason why the post-Cold War period effect may not have shown statistical significant results is a lack of cases and short time


frame which the period captures. The variable captures only 16 years and because of the young age of the firms created during that period, a right-censoring effect may be causing the lack of significance. If this same variable was re-analyzed in 2050 (with an additional 45 years of data post-Cold War), right-censoring effects would be mitigated and the data would likely show demonstrate significance. In addition to the period effects, the variable measuring proportion of independent African nations also shows an effect of decreasing failure likelihood. Independence has the largest coefficient of any of the variables and also demonstrates statistical significance. The negative coefficient shown by independence confirms the argument that early independent countries developed airlines in an effort to bolster national sovereignty and establish legitimacy in the international community. Firms were less likely to die as more countries gained their independence because these new states directed resources towards maintaining these firms.



In general, the regression results support the hypothesis and theoretical arguments outlined at the beginning of this paper. The end of World War Two increased birth rates


and decreased likelihood of failure because of increased legitimacy and the application of new technologies to a booming industry. Strong evidence supports this claim as the postWorld War Two era showed significance in both the birth and death models. The postCold War era saw an increase in birth rates and decrease in disbanding as more democratic regimes came to power and oppressive policies such as apartheid came to an end, allowing greater interaction between African markets and the rest of the world. Though the post-Cold War variable showed significance in only the birth analysis, the sign of the coefficient suggested that firms in the post-Cold War era had a reduced likelihood of failure and would likely show significance with greater cases for study. Increases in independence reduced the likelihood of death as Africa nations put an emphasis on using African airlines as political tools. And, independence impacted births indirectly by freeing up resources from multi-national firms that die so single-state airlines could be established. All of these variables work when taking into consideration traditional ecological models relating to density, age, and waves of birth and death; these variables generally fall in line with other studies and as the industry further develops will become even more parallel.

Future Research Refinements and Directions While I am quite pleased with the design and results of the study considering the practical constraints, future research can surely provide a more comprehensive and complete account of the industry’s dynamics. As discussed, I believe that the African airline industry has not reached full maturity and an additional twenty years of data would likely provide more accurate and complete statistical models. Added data would


cement the effects of the post-Cold War era and density variables by providing more statistically significant and expected results. In addition to more time, another improvement would be to collect a greater breadth of data on the firms themselves. Because of practical constraints on both resources and time, variables cataloging the characteristics of individual organizations (such as number of employees, length of route network, and fleet size) were unable to be collected. The inclusion of these variables as well as aggregate economic measures such as GDP would clearly provide a more controlled and complete regression, giving greater standing to the results. Ideally further analyses of the data would also include the variables measuring ownership type (public vs. private), route type (international vs. domestic), and service type (charter vs. scheduled). Data on firm ownership serves as a control variable in some respects, but also as an explanatory variable for death rates and in understanding changes in regulatory environments. Route type and service type variables would allow for analysis of subpopulations within the industry to see if dynamics that occur within the aggregate industry also occur within these groups. In addition to these added variables, two alterations to the scope of the study would also prove insightful. First, as growth of the airline industry continues in Africa, there will soon be enough data to investigate the industries of individual countries such as Nigeria and South Africa, both of which have seen tremendous growth in recent years. Analysis of these national industries can provide knowledge of how specific regimes and policies within a more homogenous regulatory and political environment affect airline growth. Secondly, in contrast to studying airlines at the national level, an international regional comparison between the dynamics of the African airline industry and that of


other developing regions such as Southeast Asia and Latin America would provide equally insightful findings. Understanding how political events such as the Cold War or the end of World War Two impact these global regions in different ways and to varying degrees serves as an enticing future project. My hope is to return to this project in a few years and attempt to refine the analysis so as to incorporate these additional measures.

Implications I hope that this project has provided insight into a number of things related to both population ecology and Africa. In regards to population ecology, I have shown that ecologists should devote more time to study the role of global level political events on localized populations of organizations. The significance associated with the post-Cold War, post-World War Two, and independence variables show that these events clearly affected the birth and death rates of airlines in Africa, despite the fact that many of these events were global in nature. Rather than localizing political effects, ecologists should expend greater effort on studying the role of world-level events and processes on localized populations; such analyses can provide greater insight into the historical and macro-level processes at play and better refine any ecological model. Secondly, by replicating many of the same results as other ecologists when studying a multi-national airline industry, I have shown that the scope of ecology can be applied on an international scale. Clearly, my analysis would support this premise even more if I had included other control variables, but the initial conclusions show that even industries that transcend national borders – such as airlines – exhibit similar organizational dynamics as solely domestic industries. As globalization continues to increase in pace, the focus of


population ecology needs to move further towards the international level and away from investigating only domestic populations in order to remain relevant. Third, my specific results have shown that the same political policies that result in increased births also cause decreased mortality, something that runs counter to previous findings. This provides an interesting proposition for future research in determining whether different political processes in the same environment affect birth and death rates in different ways. Finally, my results have given further credence to the original findings by ecologists related to density, age, and rate dependence in organizational populations. Though not entirely parallel, my results generally modeled previous findings and found that population ecology continues to serve as a legitimate and valuable tool for analyzing organizational populations. Beyond the implications for organizational ecology, my results also benefit the study of African development. By applying methods of population ecology to the developing world, we can better understand underlying mechanisms that may not be intuitive at first glance. Clarifying the role that global political change such as the end of the Cold War play in the dynamics of the airline industry serves as a starting point for understanding how African organizational populations are affected by global events. It informs us that African organizational populations generally respond similarly to Western organizations in regards to environmental signals regarding density and birth and death rates. Essentially, we gain a better understanding of the rules that govern African originations and see that they are quite similar to our own. Through greater understanding of the industry we can see how to best create a balance of government intervention and free-market competition so as to maximize growth given the current


global and regional political environment. Analyzing the nature of changes in the industry’s population to regulatory policies and political shifts can greatly improve the practical application of growth-oriented policies. All in all, the African airline industry serves as a dynamic and interesting population to study, not only because of its internal dynamics and processes but because of its role as a catalyst for change by moving people, goods, and ideas around the world.



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