The aviation industry is key to global travel, promoting economic links and trade. It is a major factor in linking a country to the global economy. In recent times, Africa’s aviation sector is said to have experienced rapid growth. However, the continent has always been considered the smallest region of the world in terms of aviation. This has partly been blamed on the level of economic development and the fact that routes to Africa were usually dominated by foreign airlines. There was little intra-African traffic. For example to travel from Nairobi to Dakar, it was easier to fly through Europe, as intra-African flights were few and far between. Direct flights from one country to another was out of sight within the continent, not to mention traveling out of the continent. However, there seems to be progress in that area, given that there are now direct flights, even out of the continent. Just recently, Kenya’s national carrier, Kenyan Airways launched its first direct flight from Nairobi to New York.
Improvement in Infrastructure and Flight Destinations
In terms of infrastructure, the continent has seen great improvements with the building of new airports and runways. In just a few years, the airport market in Africa has changed considerably. Private-public-partnerships are on the rise. Many countries have developed the “political will” to privatise their airports at least partially. Futhermore, the continent’s major carriers have witnessed an increase in the number of destinations served from their respective hub airports. Egyptair in Cairo, Royal Air Maroc in Casablanca, Ethiopian Airlines in Addis Ababa, Kenya Airways in Nairobi and South African Airways in Johannesburg have witnessed a more than average growth since 1994. Besides the market concentration by these five major airlines, the number of African airlines has equally multiplied. There are now approximately 70 African-based carriers operating scheduled services to, from or within Africa. Most of the new airlines are locally established and funded.
The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM)
African countries on January 28, 2018 finally took a major step towards opening the continent’s skies after 23 African states launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative by the African Union (AU). The initiative is largely based on the agreements of the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999. The Yamousssoukro Decision is a multilateral agreement between Africa’s 54 countries designed to liberalise the continent’s aviation market. It is based on the recommendations of the 1988 Yamoussoukro Declaration, which aimed at the full integration of the African air transport market. The reasoning behind the Yamoussoukro Decision was the need to foster socio-economic development in Africa. However, the agreement has not been fully implemented by its signatories.
Benfits of Unrestricted Air Space Amongst States
A World Bank study states that liberalised air transport would deliver improved safety, lower fares and increased traffic in Africa. Better connected African countries and regions through a feasible air transport industry could be the vehicle that boost intra-African business, trade, tourism as well as cultural exchange. It should be recalled that after South Africa opened its market to Kenyan airlines the number of passengers climbed by 70% and when it granted traffic rights to Zambian airlines, fares reduced by 40% and passenger numbers increased as much. A study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forsees that if just 12 of Africa’s economies opened their skies to each another, fares would drop by up to 35% and an extra 5 million Africans could afford to fly; 155,000 more new jobs would be created and $1.3 billion added to the GDP.
Challenges Facing Africa’s Aviation Industry
Even though the aviation industry has witnessed rapid growth in recent years, it still faces some challenges. In order for the roadblocks to be removed to see the continent continue to enjoy this rapid expansion, some things have to be taken into consideration. The poor record of safety and security, lack of adequate resources and infrastructure, distance and limited connectivity, lack of regulation and government actions need to be tackled completely. Addressing these challenges could significantly unlock the industry’s potential for more growth in the future.
Air travel therefore plays an important role towards the growth of the continent as it opens up opportunities that did not exist before. Promoting the African aviation industry may be one of the driving forces of regional integration on the continent. Better connected African countries and regions through a practical air transport industry could be the catalyst that can boost intra-African business, trade, tourism as well as cultural exchange.
AFRIC Editorial Article.