Africa’s transport sector has always faced a myriad of challenges, with aviation particularly confronting headwinds from all corners.
A number of airlines such as Kenya Airways were already finding it hard to negotiate stormy skies and dark financial clouds even before the pandemic struck. The sudden arrival of coronavirus almost became the last nail in the coffin of some airlines.
And when the aviation sector was beginning to show some signs of recovery after the shocks and disruptions of Covid-19, a new strain of coronavirus has been reported, first in South Africa, plunging airlines into uncertainty once more, and making the road to recovery longer and rockier.
How then can Africa surmount these seemingly intractable challenges?
Transport leaders say governments must step up efforts towards helping their airlines recover from the economic distraught occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking during the 53rd African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Annual General Assembly in Luanda, Angola under the theme Flightpath to Africa’s resilient travel ecosystem, air transport leaders asked for more commitment to get the continent’s air industry back to profitability.
Abdérahmane Berthé, AFRAA’s Secretary-General, stated that business conditions caused by the pandemic provide an opportunity for Africa to rethink its air industry and develop resilient and sustainable solutions.
Looking at recovery, Mr Berthé highlighted that the ingredients for successful restart will include financial support to airlines, safe travel measures, removal of travel restrictions and technology to shape the ‘new normal’.
“We need reinvention and redefinition of airline business models and more cooperation among African airlines to boost passenger confidence,” he said.
An analysis of the industry’s outlook made during the summit indicated that there are positive trends of airlines into recovery, noting that African airlines had reopened 81.3 percent of their international routes as of October 2021.
It also emerged that recovery in Africa and the Middle East has been smoother and steadier than in Europe and Asia but the sub-regional growth in Africa is varied and driven by different market dynamics.
The analysis further revealed that African airlines have been growing their regional fleet since 2020, allowing a deeper market penetration and a better feed.
“African cargo capacity grew by 33 percent since 2019 and cargo load factors improved by 9 percent from pre-pandemic levels.”
Airlines that added new intercontinental routes to the operation in August include Ethiopian Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and Kenya Airways. Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and Rwandair now operate to about 90 percent of their pre-Covid-19 intercontinental destinations.
According to AFRAA, domestic markets across Africa recorded a slight reduction in passenger demand although still outperforming intra-Africa and intercontinental traffic. Domestic traffic for the month of August was 58.9 percent compared to 22.7 percent for intra-Africa and 18.4 percent for intercontinental.
2021 AFRAA president, Rui Carreira said it is time for African governments to engage airlines and stakeholders to discuss, share ideas and explore solutions that can be implemented to rapidly restore the airline industry.
“African airlines should utilise this opportunity to emerge stronger and more resilient out of the crisis to face the challenges of the industry. Cooperation and among African airlines through initiatives such as network coordination and joint cost containment are among the initiatives that will enable airlines to rapidly overcome the impacts of the pandemic.”
In the event that brought together over 400 aviation delegates from 51 nationalities across the globe composed of decision-makers and aviation leaders, a roadmap was set for the transformation and the economic development of air transport in Africa.
Recognising that safe reopening of borders in a harmonized manner is critical for the efficient restart of African aviation, the summit urged African governments to remove border restrictions and open their markets to restart the industry with support from Industry Restart Plan Standards and guidance documentation.
The conference also called upon African governments to accelerate the rapid rollout of vaccines across the continent and embrace the use of digital technology health platforms to facilitate the restart of economies and air transport.
Ricardo de Abreu, Angola’s Minister of Transport remarked that time was ripe to address the future of African aviation and enhance stakeholders’ commitment to enabling the multitude of benefits to be experienced across all sectors.
“Failure is not an option, together we will succeed,” he said.
Understanding the importance of addressing the sustainability and competitiveness of Africa’s air transport, the assembly called for a laboratory convening all relevant stakeholders as a transformation opportunity for the economic development of air transport in Africa.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) remains a huge opportunity to transform Africa’s air transport sector, with AFRAA saying operationalization could boost intra-Africa trade by 52 percent in 2022.
AFRAA Secretariat in coordination with the African Union Commission (AUC), The African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), and the African Aviation Industry Group (AAIG) committed to convening the lab by the end of March 2022.
As a result, African governments were urged to address the issue of high taxes, fees and charges that impact the sustainability of the air travel industry and support the implementation of AfCFTA)and the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) to drive business growth in the continent.
The assembly elected Mr Ibrahima Kane, Chief Executive Officer, Air Senegal as the President of the association for the year 2022.
Pascal Kasongo Mwema, chief executive of Congo Airways, Yvonne Makolo chief executive of RwandAir and Mohamed Khalifa Biyah, CEO of Mauritania Airlines were re-elected as the chair, first and second vice-chairpersons for the year 2022 respectively.