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African airlines vie for a bigger share of global traffic

CONRAD ONYANGO, BIRD STORY AGENCY

AFRICA’S aviation operators and experts have retreated to the drawing board to analyse the continent’s falling global air traffic share as rising passenger demand begins to lift airlines’ performance closer to pre-pandemic levels.

The establishment of Africa’s first ‘aviation laboratory’ and the start of implementation of a strategic alliance between Kenya’s and South Africa’s national carriers in July are the latest indications of an industry keen to address bottlenecks to its growth, competitiveness and sustainability.

“The overall objective of the Laboratory was to address the root cause of challenges facing the air transport industry in Africa and develop relevant solutions to revamp the sector,” said African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Secretary General, Abdérahmane Berthé.

High operations and maintenance costs, slow implementation of a Single Africa Air transport market and fewer partnerships between airlines, hospitality and tourism bodies have been identified as some of the key issues behind the dwindling fortunes of African airlines over the last four decades.

Before the pandemic, Africa’s share of global air traffic had already declined by a percentage point to 2.5 percent compared to 3.5 percent in the early 1980s, according to AFRAA. COVID-19 further aggravated the continent’s air transport sector pushing its traffic market share below two percent.

“This marginalization trend is a strong wake-up call to all stakeholders to take necessary actions,” said Berthé.

AFRAA, a 44-member airline body accounting for 85 percent of total international traffic carried by African airlines, is now spearheading the continent’s first-ever ‘aviation laboratory,’ tasked with developing roadmaps for the sustainability of the air transport sector in Africa.

Some of the initial commitments already made by key stakeholders include allowing more airlines to fly between two third-party countries to boost intra-African connectivity and developing guidelines and economic regulatory framework for the rationalization of taxes, charges, and fees.

The new roadmap is also working on reducing airfares, and taxes on fuel and pushing for the abolishment of customs duties on spare parts and aircraft to boost trade and tourism on the continent.

Other key interventions proposed include automation of flight permit acquisition processes across Civil Aviation Authorities and bolstering operation efficiency in African airspace to attain productivity gains for airlines and air navigation service providers.

A multi-sectoral steering committee drawing participants from airports, airlines, tourism boards, civil aviation authorities, continental financiers, AfCFTA Secretariat and independent industry experts will review the roadmap before being tabled for adoption by AU Policy Organs.

While deliberations go on, a strategic pact between Kenya Airways and South African Airways signed in 2021 has begun showing the impending benefits of close cooperation as demand for air travel rebounds.

Last month the two airlines struck a codeshare agreement- opening up more routes for each operator and offering passengers more options and seamless travel across the continent.

Beyond opening key routes operated by these carriers in Southern and Eastern Africa, the two airlines are evaluating their codeshare partnership to add new destinations within Africa including Zanzibar, Tanzania, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and Juba in South Sudan, Douala in Cameroon, Lusaka in Zambia, Ghana and Nigeria.

“The additional destinations we believe will offer better customer journey thanks to the number of frequencies and connections created as well as many opportunities for trade and tourism,” said Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer, Allan Kilavuka.

According to International Air Transport Association (IATA) data, demand for air travel surged in June, with airlines based in Africa recording a doubling of international traffic over the year to June, with an increase of 103.6 percent.

“Demand for air travel remains strong. After two years of lockdowns and border restrictions people are taking advantage of the freedom to travel wherever they can,” said IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh.

With the continent’s international traffic now around 35 percent below the 2019 level, the performance of international traffic between Africa and neighbouring regions is approaching pre-pandemic levels.

According to IATA, traffic between Africa and Europe is currently 4.6 percent below June 2019 while that of Africa and the Middle East is 10.4 percent below 2019 levels.

/bird story agency