African aviation: Moving beyond recovery to stability

Comparing July 2022 to July 2021, the total traffic increased by 58.8 per cent (as measured in Revenue Passenger Kilometres).

The International Aviation Transport Authority reports that the recovery is being driven by traffic, which in July increased 4.1 per cent over the same month last year. Domestic travel overall in July 2022 was 86.9 per cent higher than the figure in July 2019. China experienced significant month-to-month growth compared to June.

In comparison to July 2021, global traffic increased by 150.6 per cent. International RPKs in July 2022 were 67.9 per cent higher than that of July 2019. All markets reported strong growth, led by Asia-Pacific.

The third quarter’s performance remained strong, according to the Director General of IATA, Willie Walsh, with some markets approaching pre-Coronavirus Disease levels.  And that’s despite travel capacity issues in regions of the world that weren’t ready for the rapid return of the  population. He noted that there was still more grounds to recover.


International passenger markets

The strongest year-over-year rate among the regions was reported by Asia-Pacific airlines, which saw a 528.8 per cent increase in July traffic compared to July 2021. The capacity increased by 159.9 per cent, and the load factor increased by 47.1 percentage points to 80.2 per cent. Comparing July 2018 to July 2021, traffic for European carriers increased by 115.6 per cent. The load factor increased by 20.6 percentage points to 86.7, which is second highest among the regions, and capacity increased by 64.3 per cent.

Last July, compared to July 2021, traffic on Middle Eastern airlines increased by 93.1 per cent. Capacity increased 84.1 per cent, while load factor increased by 30.5 percentage points to 82.

July traffic for North American carriers increased by 129.2 per cent compared to the same month in 2021. Capacity increased by 79.9 per cent, and load factor increased by 19.4 per cent points to 90.3, continuing to be the highest among the regions.

When compared to July 2021, traffic for Latin American airlines increased by 119.4 per cent. Capacity increased by 92.3 per cent, and load factor went up by 10.5 percentage points to 85.2.

RPKs for African airlines increased by 84.8 per cent in July compared to the same month last year. Capacity increased by 46.7 per cent and load factor increased by 15.5 percentage points to 75, the lowest among regions.



The combined commercial fleet of African airlines, as of the beginning of 2020, only totalled 740 aircraft, which is fewer than that of American airlines. Their fleets only account for about three per cent of global air traffic and 2.9 per cent of the world’s commercial fleet. The majority of African airlines, most notably, only fly within African nations as the majority of their fleet consists of low-range regional jets and turboprops.

As majority of African airlines’ fleets are made up primarily of low-range regional jets and turboprops, they primarily operate only within Africa. Only a small number of African airlines, including Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, and Royal Air Maroc, guarantee a significant level of connectivity to the rest of the world.

African aviation is now a sector with a high potential for job creation as a result of its recent growth in new opportunities and jobs. Not to be overlooked are the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis for African aviation. Similar to the majority of other airlines, African airlines struggled and incurred significant losses during the crisis. However, given that there haven’t been many airline bankruptcies in Africa, they surprisingly made it through and did so better than the rest of the world’s airlines. For instance, Ethiopian Airlines, the largest in Africa, was able to turn a profit during this challenging period, thanks to cargo operations.

African aviation had begun to noticeably advance by the end of the previous decade, but the pandemic significantly slowed it down. To recover from this slowdown and resume evolution, much more work will now be required, according to a study.


Crux of the matter

As the pandemic is gradually contained, African airlines resume operations with few changes, but their core, long-standing issues remain unresolved and will continue to hinder them even after they have fully recovered from the crisis.

As a result, the future of African aviation depends more on resolving these issues than on recovering from this health crisis. The need for air travel in Africa is increasing, so African aviation authorities and African governments are expected to seriously consider how to, at least, address the most pressing issues facing the continent’s aviation industry and turn it into a more profitable sector.

The World Bank claims that COVID-19 poses an existential threat to the global aviation industry, including in Africa. The survival of carriers is uncertain in the short term due to a consistent and significant loss in revenue and the presence of numerous fixed and quasi-fixed inputs in this industry. This might cause significant African airlines to go bankrupt, resulting in severe loss of connectivity, especially in the intra-African markets. 

“If the past is any indication, it might be a while before another airline steps in to fill the void left by a shuttered airline in Africa, given the regulatory environment that currently limits market access as well as airline ownership and control. The difficulty in obtaining capital as well as the high cost of (re)training and recruiting the highly skilled labour typically required to operate a profitable airline further exacerbate this challenge.

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis in Africa, the goal of this policy note is to investigate operational and policy strategies to rebuild a safe and competitive air transportation sector,” the Bretton Woods institution states.



IATA predicted in November 2019 that total passenger travel to, from and within Africa in 2020 would only be 30 per cent of what it was in 2019, with a complete return to 2019 levels only anticipated in late 2023. Without prompt action from governments and donor organisations, the association warned that the situation would shift from aiding a sector in dire need to saving it from bankruptcy.

To account for a weaker-than-expected recovery, IATA revised its forecast for passenger numbers in 2020 from 45 per cent to 30 per cent of 2019 numbers. It emphasised a lot of uncertainty surrounding any forecast for the number of passengers, and major downside risks.

“Aviation continues to recover as people take advantage of their restored freedom to travel. The pandemic showed that aviation is not a luxury, but a necessity in our globalised and interconnected world. Aviation is committed to continuing to meet the demands of people and commerce and to do it sustainably.

“We have set a goal to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which is in line with the Paris Agreement. Governments will have the opportunity to support our commitment by agreeing to a Long-Term Aspirational Goal of net zero aviation CO2 emissions by 2050 at the coming 41st Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. With governments supporting the same goal and timeline, we and our value chain partners can move forward with confidence towards a net zero carbon future,” Walsh said.

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