May 27, 2013
Most constituents in the global air transport industry agree that there is enormous potential in developing the African aviation market. But they also agree that actually realizing it will prove much harder.
Some fundamentals are pointing in the right direction. Economies are growing strongly in important countries on the continent, and middle classes are emerging as a consequence, with an increasing number of people now able to afford airline tickets. Unlike in other regions, there is no real competition to air travel—flying is often the only viable transport mode, sometimes via a European hub for routes from West to East Africa, for example. And strong local players such as Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines are emerging, superseding the numerous miniscule carriers with flawed business models.
However, African aviation is still challenged by a lack of infrastructure, horrible safety standards, an almost general lack of investment, corruption, high taxation, political instability or stagnation and, in some cases, geographic disadvantages.
Whether progress will prevail will largely depend on concerted action by the continent's governments—to ensure the necessary legal framework and operating conditions—and on airline managements to take advantage of new opportunities where they arise.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) chose Cairo as the location for its annual general assembly in 2011 but was eventually forced to move the event to Singapore in the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring uprising. By holding the general assembly this year in Cape Town, IATA seems to be arguing that the time is ripe for Africa's breakthrough.
But here is what Africa must overcome to achieve it. By world standards it is very dangerous to fly in Africa. Globally, there was one hull loss for five million flights involving Western-built jets in 2012, but for airlines in Africa that ratio was one hull loss for every 270,000 flights. “World-class safety is possible in Africa,” says Tony Tyler, IATA secretary general and CEO. “The key to this is integrating the best safety practices of the industry.”
IATA, the African Airlines Association (Afraa) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) among others have developed an African Strategic Improvement Action Plan. Its objectives are: