African aviation was born during the same period that air transport started in the rest of the world.
The first african airline, South African Airways, was established in 1934 followed by Ethiopian Airlines in 1946. Based on that, we can easily notice that this industry encountered a very slow rate of growth in its beginnings. This sluggishness was caused by the incapacity of African governments of the day to develop the aviation industry.
But although African aviation is lagging behind the rest of the world today, we witness an incredible growth of this industry these last few years. This growth is caused by factors like: increase in the number of people that travel by air, orders of new aircraft (258 ordered aircrafts as of 2020) and the birth of new airlines.
African airlines have a combined commercial fleet of only 740 aircrafts (at the beginning of 2020) which is less than the fleet of American Airlines, the largest US airline. Their fleet represents only 2.9% of world’s commercial fleet and accounts for only about 3% of the world’s air traffic. Most importantly, most of African airlines operate only within African countries, due to the fact that the major part of their fleet is made up of low range regional jets and turboprops. Only few airlines in Africa like Ethiopian Airlines, EgyptAir or Royal Air Maroc ensure a significant connectivity with the rest of the world.
The side effect of the recent growth of African aviation has led to the creation new jobs and new opportunities, making African aviation an industry with a high potential of creating new jobs. Let’s also not forget the effects of Covid19 crisis on African aviation. Like most of airlines around, African airlines have also encountered difficulties and made lots of losses during this period of crisis. Nevertheless, they surprisingly survived and got through it in a better way than the rest of airlines in the world as not many Airlines bankruptcies have been recorded in Africa. Ethiopian Airlines for example, the largest African Airline made profit thanks to cargo operations during this period of crisis.
To sum up, despite African aviation continuing to lag, It has a high potential for growth and job creation and will tremendously develop Africa as it connects the continent to the rest of the world.
African aviation has to overcome numerous challenges that are still dragging it behind, the first and most outstanding of them being security and safety. Despite African aviation accounting for only 3% of the world air traffic, it makes up 19% of global incidents and accidents. With such a low record of safety, it is difficult to gain trust of costumers and it even pushes some foreign countries to restrict their airspace to some African airlines.
This problem of safety is caused by other challenges that African aviation has also to overcome which is the lack of qualified aviation personal for aircrafts inspections and maintenance, adequate infrastructures and most importantly the lack of reglementary monitoring. Most of African airlines don’t even have maintenance facilities in their respective countries so they usually have to take their aircrafts to Europe or America whenever a maintenance operation is required leading to extra costs.
The lack of adequate infrastructures is caused by another issue which is the lack of financial resources of African governments. Most African governments don’t have enough money to build adequate infrastructure for their airlines.
African governments have also another role to play in the difficulties that African aviation is facing. Aviation seems not to be their top priority as the most destructive problems like corruption and misappropriation of funds are still occurring in the African aviation industry and still African governments hardly take proper actions to stop these problems.
Another big problem that African aviation is facing is the poverty of African people. Although more and more Africans have started travelling by air in recent years, their number remains very low because of poverty. The low number high income earners in Africa doesn’t allow many Africans to travel by air yet. An airline cannot make profit if it doesn’t have enough costumers, most importantly local costumers. In addition, this small number of Africans using air transport gets quickly seduced by foreign airline services leaving the few African airlines that could connect Africa to the rest of the world at the mercy of foreign airlines when it comes to travelling to international destinations.
Foreign airlines represent a huge obstacle for African airlines as they dominate African aviation market. New start-ups and even existing African airlines are struggling to overcome them. African governments have to take the struggles of African aviation seriously and find a way resolve them right away as air transport remains one of the key components of the development of the continent.
By the end of the last decade, African aviation was noticeably evolving but the pandemic considerably slowed it down. Now, it has to make much more effort to recover from this slow-down and start evolving again. However, the future of African aviation depends more on solving its challenges listed above than recovering from this health crisis as the pandemic is being gradually overcome, African airlines resume operations with little changes but their main ancient problems remain still unsolved and will continue to slow them down when they will fully recover from the crisis. Demand for air transport in Africa is growing so African aviation authorities and African governments have to seriously consider to find a way to solve at least the most outstanding problems of African aviation and make it a safer way of travelling and a more profitable industry.
By Ngarnaissem Dounia Baron – 3rd place winner of the African Aviation group 5th anniversary essay competition