Africa’s aviation industry has a problem, but this could be the future

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By Hassan El-Houry, Group CEO, NAS

Africa is a single continent, comprising of 54 separate countries. Trade with the rest of the world can often be difficult and complex. Thirteen of the countries are landlocked, making air travel the best mode of transportation – especially considering the poor land infrastructure and terrain.

High population with low international movement

Africa is going through an economic boom and tourism in Africa grew by nine percent in 2017, the highest increase of any region. However it is interesting to note that even though Africans total 12 percent of the world population, they make up only three percent of the world’s travellers.

There are many factors influencing this gap. The lack of domestic flights causes significant issues, with stopovers causing double or triple the journey times on many routes. For example, when traveling from Abidjan to Kampala, both notable economic powerhouses, you have to fly via Istanbul and reconnect because there are no direct flights.

High-ticket prices also cause complications for Africa’s aviation industry. It’s expensive traveling to and from Africa, but it’s also expensive to travel within Africa, a factor driven by lesser competition and local airlines.

Non-African carriers currently cover eighty percent of the African market. While there is a steady increase in the number of African carriers like Ethiopian Airlines, South African, Kenyan Airways, Air Cote d’Ivoire, Royal Air Marco and Egypt Air, they still cannot fully compete with the likes of European or Middle Eastern carriers.

Disparity in quality

Intra-region visa restrictions are another major impediment to travel and economic prosperity in Africa. According to the Africa Visa Openness Index, on an average, Africans need visas to enter 55 per cent of states within the continent.

The African Union (AU) has attempted to address this issue of free movement within the region for the last 30 years by introducing a common African passport in 2016, with a goal to distribute them to all citizens by 2020.

While the number of countries becoming more liberal has increased, a visa-free Africa still seems like a dream for the continent’s entrepreneurs, doctors, aid workers, college professors and reuniting families.

Nonetheless, figures show that aviation in Africa has evolved significantly. Thirty or forty years ago, most of the traffic from the continent to other areas of the planet was to Europe or the United States. Now, there’s a lot of traffic between Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as well as between Africa and the rest of the world. For airports in Africa, this has meant that hubs serving all these destinations have grown and improved considerably due to increases in footfall and therefore income.

The future of Africa’s aviation industry

Relationships between African cities and countries, and their Asian and Middle Eastern counterparts have strengthened and deepened. As intra-African trade has increased and visa restrictions have decreased, travel within the continent will also continue to grow significantly.

Aviation impacts all our lives, on both a macro and micro level. A lot of products that are integral parts of our lives come to us through air travel, including food, electronics and medicines.

The ability to travel freely has dramatically changed our understanding of life as it enables a high level of mobility. By making air travel easier and accessible, we are encouraging more and more people to travel and increase interpersonal interactions across multiple borders.

By bridging geographic gaps, removing complexity and bringing people closer, aviation will boost the creation of shared value in our fractured world.

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