African Aviation in Focus at AviaDev. Here are the Highlights

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Optimism! That was the overwhelming feeling at the just concluded Aviadev Africa event in Cape Town, which brought together close to 300 delegates across airlines, airports, industry suppliers and OEMs, resulting in over 5000 formal pre-arranged meetings and many more informal ones. The goal, to advance Africa’s air connectivity with a focus on improving intra-continental networks and supporting the region’s recovery and growth.

Here are some of the highlight topics that dominated conversations:

Access to Finance

 Perhaps one of the key impediments to the growth of Africa’s aviation industry is the issue of capital and the difficulty in accessing finance.

Liquidity is important to driving business. However African airlines are struggling to access finance at fair rates.

“Globally airlines access capital at 2% and we pay 16% for example. So there’s no ways we can have an advantage,” says Joao Po Jorge, CEO, LAM Mozambique Airlines

Africa is inherently a high cost environment meaning that airlines are already swimming against the tide from the get-go.

“If you look at the average African airline, They lose a dollar and 50 cents for every passenger that they carry compared to the global average of seven Dollars and 80 cents profit. So they’re actually in the red and, and what are the reasons for that? I mean, it has to do with their high cost of operations, fuel costs, as we know, contribute about 35% of your operating costs and it’s 20% higher than their peers.” Says Helen Brume, Director Project and Asset based finance at the AFREXIM bank

Risks plus Perception of risk on the continent has contributed greatly to high premiums on capital and unfortunately most of that capital is not within the continent, it’s coming from outside the continent. What are the solutions?

“We need to work jointly. And I believe collaboration is key to creating an environment that can attract this capital. But I think more importantly, we need to start to think about our own sources of capital, our own pool of capital that understands the risk of Africa and can/will not unduly punish airlines for this risk perception.”

The presence of Banks such as the Africa development bank and the Africa Export Import Bank are seemingly the best pathway to providing real solutions.

According to Helen Brume, “one of the things the afrexim bank is considering is setting up an aviation leasing platform. And the platform will hopefully offer better solutions, better alternatives in terms of access to cheaper leasing options to the local airlines. And I think this will go a long way to supporting a lot of the local players.”


While the African continent’s 1.3 billion strong population is a huge plus and a tremendous opportunity for the transport sector, a market that represents only 2% of global traffic boosting up to 300 airlines is all sorts of red flags. Quite simply put, the market has too much capacity and is too fragmented for success.

“China’s got 10 airlines and India’s got about the same number. it’s about the same size of population. How do we, as a continent sustain 300 airlines, that’s absurd.” Says Airlink CEO Roger Foster.

“We need to get to grips with the thinness of the markets. It’s about the rationalization of the number of players and then the appropriate deployment of capital to markets.” he says


The past 2 years have seen the rise of the cargo sector to prominence and near stardom as successful airlines testified to its role in their survival through the pandemic.

But the year 2022 has become a relatively tough one for the sector largely due to rising fuel prices and China’s covid lockdowns. China is the largest market for cargo coming into Africa.

Sanjeev Ghadia, CEO and founder of Africa’s most successful cargo-only airline explains why the cargo sector is particularly more sensitive to rising fuel prices than the passenger side of the business.

“one of the problems that we have in the air cargo industry is most of our Aircraft are very old. And because of that, our Fuel cost is significantly higher compared to the more efficient passenger airlines. So in our case, it’s almost anything between 45% to 55% of our cost that is fuel based.”

 Ultimately, this means a higher price for the privilege of air cargo “You always end up passing about 60 to 70% of the cost and you end up absorbing the remaining until the following month. So it’s been a very difficult balancing act.”

Generally, cargo Load factors are at about 62%.  Far less than the passenger market. This is because unlike passengers who eventually have to return from their trips, Cargo tends to move in one direction, creating a massive imbalance.

“this is one of the reasons why air cargo is generally more expensive because the imbalances that you get in the flows of cargo are quite serious.” Says Sanjeev Gadhia


One of the main drivers for the cargo market is the operationalization of the African Continental Free Trade Area, the largest trading block in the world. Intra Africa trade represents only 30% of the continent’s trade numbers with most of the trade happening with countries outside Africa. Partnerships will be key in changing that narrative.

partnerships are going to drive success, I think, in the future or coming future.

And that’s what we are looking at, growing more of those, doing more such opportunities” says Martin Gitonga, head of network planning and partnerships at kenya Airways


Astral aviation and kenya airways are perhaps the leading airlines investing in adopting drone technology on the African continent. Both airlines see the potential of drones as an extension of their ecosystem.

“when we looked at developing a fleet of large cargo drones, we expected that the large cargo drones will actually solve all the problems of infrastructure. it’ll solve the problems of safety and security and it will actually be at a lower cost,” Says Sanjeev Gadhia

“What you’re looking at is the future of e-Commerce in Africa has to be delivery within four days. So from the time you click the button,You should be able to get a delivery within four days compared to 14 to 30 days. “


Africa represents a growth market for the globe’s OEMs. Fuelled by population growth, GDP growth and the unlocking of a prohibitive regulatory environment over the next few years. The continent’s aviation growth is expected to be driven by intra-African connectivity with all manufacturers’ market outlooks showing demand for aircraft in the thousands over the next 2 decades.

we are looking at around a thousand planes by 2040. We believe that will be predominantly dominated by the narrow body at around 72% with the remainder being the wide body.” Says Kuljit Ghata-Aura, Boeing President, Middle east, Africa and Turkey

Choosing the right aircraft will be critical for the survival of African airlines who have not always made sensible fleet decisions, and the narrow-body market looks like the right fit.

“97% of flights in Africa have less than 150 passengers, which means also that 70% of them are operating with less than a daily frequency, which in business terms is no longer viable.” – says Hussein dabbas, Embraer’s general manager, Middle east and Africa


The aviation industry has committed to achieving Net-Zero emissions by 2050 in line with the Paris agreement. Climate action is a global challenge and more so in aviation where some mitigation measures are so difficult to adopt.

But the first step in the industry’s pathway is the adoption of sustainable aviation fuels(SAF).

According to Rolls-Royce marketing director Jason Sutcliffe, 35 million gallons of SAF will be needed by the global airline fleet by 2050.

SAF is four or five times more expensive than conventional fuel. When we already know the taxation in Africa from the government’s own fuel is huge.

And that perhaps relates to the more expensive flight tickets. So the governments need to help airlines firstly, survive that then become more sustainable.” Says Jason Sutcliffe

Sanjeev Gadhia

 A special mention must go to Sanjeev Gadhia, CEO and founder, Astral Aviation who picked up the Ato Girma Wake lifetime achievement award at AviaDev 2022. The award is fully deserved for a man who was ahead of his time in seeing the opportunity of cargo on the continent, and an airline executive who is as humble as he is brilliant.

The award was named after its first recipient, the legendary Ethiopian who led and helped build the most successful airline on the continent. He was present to hand over the award in person and in the presence of former recipient, Adefunke Adeyemi, IATA’s regional director for Africa.

The award has also been previously won by Chris Zweigenthal, the former CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa and Raphael Kuuchi, former IATA vice president for Africa.

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