Africa’s Aviation Highlights of 2021

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Who knew that the end of 2021 would conjure up similar sentiments as 2020. Almost 2 years since Covid-19 came into our lives and changed the world, we look back on 2021 with the humility of a praying nun and look cautiously at the uncertain hope of the year 2022 and beyond.

The African Airlines Association has estimated that African airlines will lose USD 8.5 Billion in revenue for the full year 2021, this in comparison to 10.2 Billion in lost revenue for 2020 and a dismal half of pre-covid 2019 revenue. A year that promised ‘recovery’ has again served everything that 2020 had to offer and today as the year comes to a close, international markets and their respective Africa routes are still being opened and closed like a busy corner-shop door.

Appetite for travel remains low on the African continent with route networks changing their shape every month and the overall cost of travel now higher due to covid tests and isolation protocols in some states. The longer passenger journeys and declined intra-African connectivity has contributed to a gloomy state for the year.

According to IATA, passenger travel in Africa has been driven largely by domestic markets that have not had to face the brunt of restrictive cross-border health protocols. The cargo market has experienced unprecedented growth despite missing out on a large chunk of belly capacity from grounded passenger aircraft. Cargo volumes have seen a double digit increase versus 2019 throughout the year with Africa the region with the largest demand growth in the world.

What have been Africa’s aviation highlights in 2021?


Two of the biggest stories of the year involved South Africa’s national airline. First it had to come back from the brink of collapse to emerge as a new slimmer, ad hopefully healthier airline. The relaunch of SAA was accompanied by news that the government would take a back seat, surrendering majority equity to a private partner. We are yet to see the public-private partnership in reality but perhaps that’s a story for 2022


It didn’t take too long for SAA to jump into another highlights category this year. The “giant” from the South announced it will be partnering another “giant” from the East in Kenya Airways with the aim of building a Pan-African Airline group, one that can rival the Ethiopian Airlines group. Time will tell.

But the year was littered with partnership announcements across the continent. An unusual trend in Africa inspired by the struggles of the covid pandemic, Rwandair continued to cement its relationship with Qatar airways, announcing an interline agreement and later a codeshare. Notably, on a purely African level, Airlink, now the largest airline in Southern Africa entered an interline partnership with Ethiopian Airlines. Another big winner from the pandemic, the cargo airline Astral Aviation inked interline partnerships with Etihad cargo, Kenya Airways, airlink Cargo and Silkway West Airlines

Aircraft Orders and Deliveries

Despite a slowdown in air travel due to the pandemic, African airlines have largely pushed ahead with their fleet expansion plans in anticipation of future growth post pandemic.

Most notably, Ethiopian Airlines delivered its 32nd Dash8-400 this year, Air Peace achieved a first, adding the first Airbus aircraft to its fleet, two A320s on lease from smartlynx, the Nigerian carrier, the largest operator in West Africa has also delivered its 5th brand new Embraer E195-E2 of 13 on order, Uganda airlines took delivery of its second A330-800NEO reataining the distinction of being the first and only operator of the type in Africa

Meanwhile in the world of orders, the year started with Embraer joy after Congo Airways firmed up an order for 2 E195-E2s in addition to its earlier order for 2 E170s. But the bulk of orders for 2021 were reserved for the Dubai airshow in November where Nigeria’s Ibom air announced an order for 10 A220s and another Nigerian carrier Overland Airways ordered 6 Embraer E175s. Air Tanzania gave the 737 MAX a lease of life on the African continent, endorsing the type with an order for 2 aircraft. The Tanzania national airline also made an order for a 787 Dreamliner and 767 freighter.

New Routes

Because of on again and off again border closures, African airlines have had to constantly reinvent their route networks but in November, The African Airlines Association (AFRAA) reported that Four African airlines had exceeded their pre-covid routes

New routes launched by airlines in Africa this year included Uganda Airlines’ Entebbe to Johannesburg and Entebbe to Dubai, Rwandair’s new Kigali to Qatar route, Air Senegal’s one-stop service between Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) and Dakar, Senegal. This route growth in increased air access on the continent also included foreign airlines entering new Africa markets such as Lufthansa group’s new Euro wings flying to holiday destinations such as Mauritius and Namibia and Qatar’s addition of Abidjan, Lusaka and Harare to its route network.


Nigeria’s Green Africa airways finally received its AOC in August and completed its much anticipated launch, starting off with a fleet of ATR 72-600 aircraft.

After close to 3 decades, Zambia’s national airline returned at the end of 2021, this time with the help of a partnership with Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest airline group who own a stake of 45%

Interesting startup news also emerged out of Congo with the government set to launch a new airline, Air Congo in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines. This is one for 2022


The pandemic was always going to claim a few and 2021 was no exception as we witnessed the collapse of 75 year old Air Namibia. Not too far away in sub-saharan Africa, Malawi Airlines got to the brink of liquidation before the government decided it will commit to recapitalizing the troubled airline


At the so-called Oscars of the aviation industry, the Skytrax awards, Ethiopian Airlines was crowned as “The Best Airline in Africa” for the fourth consecutive year. The airline also scooped “The Best Business class Airline in Africa” for the third consecutive year and “The Best Economy class Airline in Africa” for the third consecutive year. Ethiopian was also named as the airline with “The Best Cabin Crew in Africa.”

Royal Air Maroc was crowned as “The best Regional airline in Africa” while RwandAir scooped an award for “The Best Airline Staff in Africa”.

The top 5 African Airlines of 2021 according to Skytrax are: Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Kenya Airways, Royal Air Maroc and Air Mauritius



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