Space Travel marks Giant Leap for the World. Africa’s Baby Steps Inspire Hope

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In 2019 the International Air Transport Association  (IATA) predicted that Africa is set to become one of the fastest growing aviation regions in the next 20 years with an annual expansion of nearly 5%. The African Development Bank(ADB) group noted that the aviation industry has experienced high growth rates of 4.8% CAGR(compound annual growth rate) in the recent years.  The ADB and various industry bodies predict that the continent has potential for commercial aviation growth.

In Africa, the aviation industry supported 2.2% of all employment with over 7 million jobs and about 80 billion in economic activity before the global pandemic . Air travel facilitates a substantial amount of tourism in Africa contributing to economic activities such as restaurants, hotels and shops. It also supports other sectors like agriculture,  education and health care.

Meanwhile, the world was taken by storm this weekend when the unimaginable happened. Sir Branson went to space in a rocket powered spacecraft made by his company, the Virgin Galactic.  After 17 years of developing this vehicle,  Branson gains licence for commercial spaceflights. The recent events have given birth to space tourism. Jeff Bezos is also planning to launch into space with his own firm, the Blue Origin.

Where does this leave Africa? The world renown Economist magazine once dubbed Africa the ‘hopeless continent’. Is Africa a lost cause? The continent is struggling with weak infrastructure that is outdated,  high ticket prices and poor ground and air connectivity. Because of this, travellers have to endure multiple flights to reach certain destinations.  There is also lack of liberalization and airports managed by government entities or regulatory bodies. Additionally protectionist policies and mindsets are discouraging foreign investors for example when the Ethiopian Airways (one of the biggest in Africa) was denied purchase of more than 49% in Malawian Airlines. Another limiting factor is inadequate safety standards.

In his words, the 70 year old Sir Richard Branson after coming into contact with the space said, “l was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars… if we can do this, just imagine what you can do…”

Maybe there is hope after all for the continent that houses over 700 airports and over 400 airlines and 80 billion in economic activity. The Group CEO of National Aviation Services, Hassan El-Houry said, “Aviation will change the face of Africa and the rise of Africa will change the face of aviation across the globe“. He also says during the previous years, governments saw aviation as a luxury through which to tax the wealthy but today it has been accepted that aviation is an engine for economic growth.

Though African skies are dominated by international airlines like Emirates, KLM or British Airways there is great potential in Ethiopian, Kenyan Airways or Royal Air Maroc. Ethiopian airlines boasts a global network connecting Africa to more destinations around the world than any other airline. In 2019 they ranked 46 in the top 100 airlines in the world.

Africa needs large scale reforms. The continent is taking steps to open its skies through the implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market the flagship project of the African Union. There is need for Government to regulate the aviation sector, however, the airports and service providers  should be privatized. Security and safety should be strict. Quality and healthy environments are a requirement. The skies and visa requirements need to be liberalized.  All these factors will eventually result in a huge drop in ticket prices.

Aviation boosts trade and tourism hence providing a positive impact on the economy. From the words of Eric Kacou, “The continent hasn’t yet managed to unleash the potential of aviation“. There is hope for  Africa after all, though the  rest of the world might be taking giant steps.

By Agnes C. Msongelwa

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