The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently held its Focus Africa Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, bringing together aviation leaders and stakeholders to discuss the current state and future prospects of air travel and cargo transportation in Africa. The conference shed light on several crucial issues affecting the industry, including safety, regulation, sustainability, trade, and economic growth in the region.
Rapid Recovery in African Airlines
The first quarter of 2023 witnessed a remarkable 87.1% year-on-year growth in revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs) for African airlines. This growth has brought RPKs to a level just 9.4% below their 2019 figures, indicating a swift recovery. Despite this positive trend, the region still faces structural financial and economic barriers that hinder air travel demand. Challenges such as high costs, inadequate infrastructure, and connectivity limitations continue to impede the establishment of robust air services.
Divergent Outcomes in Passenger Traffic and Seat Capacity
The chart presented during the conference showcases the divergent outcomes in terms of origin-destination (O-D) passenger traffic and airline scheduled seat capacity for African countries. Major economies in the region have demonstrated significant recovery, surpassing pre-crisis levels of activity. Nigeria, in particular, has experienced impressive growth, with passenger traffic and seat capacity reaching nearly 60% above 2019 levels. This growth builds upon the positive results achieved in the fourth quarter of 2022.
Positive Growth in Northern and Eastern Africa
In Northern Africa, Egypt and Morocco experienced substantial increases of 29% and 20%, respectively, in passenger traffic during the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period in 2019. Airline capacity in Egypt also kept pace with passenger growth, expanding by 30% compared to Q1 2019. Similarly, Ethiopia in Eastern Africa witnessed passenger and airline seat levels that were 19% and 14% above pre-pandemic figures, respectively.
Challenges in Southern Africa
Southern Africa faces longstanding structural and profitability challenges that continue to impact the aviation market. Consequently, this region lags behind 2019 levels of aviation activity. South Africa, in particular, recorded Q1 2023 passenger numbers that were 12% below 2019 levels, while scheduled seat capacity was even further behind, at 27% below. However, it is worth noting that South Africa has made significant improvements compared to the last quarter of 2022.
IATA’s Focus Africa highlights Africa’s rapid recovery in air traffic that has been accompanied by advancements in connectivity and increased competition among airlines. These developments have the potential to contribute significantly to the region’s economic development. However, to fully capitalize on aviation’s potential, efforts to liberalize the aviation sector in Africa must intensify. By removing barriers and fostering a more open and competitive market, African countries can enhance connectivity, stimulate air travel demand, and attract investment.