Africa has not been historically synonymous with air travel. Although it’s the largest continent by size and population, home to 12% of the world’s people, it hosts just 1% of the planet’s air traffic. That’s down to a number of factors, but inadequate infrastructure, airline insolvency, and lack of demand among African citizens are chief among them.
However, the dial does appear to be moving on that last issue at least. As more airlines offer greater coverage on their route plans, and more Africans have a larger amount of disposable income, interest in flying has steadily recent. Of course, the pandemic put a check on such growth, but thankfully it was just a temporary one and flying figures on the continent are now continuing to climb.
For too long, Africa endured a reputation as one of the most dangerous places to fly anywhere in the world. This was due to lax standards, rogue operations and old, unmaintained aircraft. However, the situation has drastically improved in recent years, so much so that there is now a plethora of options to choose from.
Indeed, there are currently 37 different airlines operating from Africa with accreditation from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), including such household names as Ethiopian Airlines, which is widely regarded as one of the best airlines anywhere around the globe. This has reassured passengers who may previously have been worried for their safety when flying in Africa.
One of the biggest issues plaguing African air travel has been insufficient connectivity within the continent itself. Although there are some 800 routes connecting African airports with countries in other continents, there are just 500 intracontinental flight paths inside Africa itself. This means that only 9% of air traffic in Africa was between African nations before the outbreak of Covid-19.
This is clearly a problem – but it’s one which is being addressed. For example, Brazilian small aircraft carrier Embraer has shown great interest in developing intracontinental routes in Africa. With experience of handling such routes in other parts of the world, and having already bolstered the performance of some African airlines through use of its craft, Embraer is in pole position to tackle the issue.
Of course, the biggest factor in the rising popularity of flying in Africa is the people themselves. With safer aircraft and better route coverage, more options now exist; but these would mean nothing were it not for the interest of African citizens. A growing middle class has led to more disposable income for everyday Africans, with many choosing to holiday abroad in other countries on the continent.
At the same time, business travel is equally important to the African aviation industry. The establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) in 2018 has facilitated cross-border commerce and led to an upsurge in planes traveling around the continent ferrying businessmen to and from their work. All of this taken together means that the skies are the limit for the African aviation industry moving forwards.
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