With increased demand for air transport and cargo services due to a rising middle class, the African aviation industry is ready for lift-off. During the 1960 – 1980 independence wave, several governments introduced national carriers of their own. While initially welcomed, these airlines quickly encountered harsh criticism for comparatively low safety standards.
Recently, however, several airlines including Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways have been recognised for their level of customer excellence and transport service. With over a hundred destinations worldwide, Africa’s airlines have transformed African cities such as Nairobi, Johannesburg, and Lagos into cultural and economic hubs geared towards tourism and business.
Unfortunately, some airlines have been plagued by dwindling profits and mismanagement of funds. According to the International Air Transport Association, Africa’s collective profit in aviation for 2015 was determined to be “$100 million for a 0.8% net margin.” The African Development Bank finds that low inter-state travel in Africa persists due to stringent visa conditions. African travellers are therefore unlikely to travel to other African countries due to high costs and lengthy processes, thus denying tourist markets the benefit of tourists from the region. Low infrastructure, especially in rural areas, is an additional barrier to aircraft accessibility. Even in urban areas, many African airports cannot accommodate larger aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and have a limited number of runways. As a result, many cities are unable to exploit their full transport potential and have lagged behind.
In light of these challenges, renewed development projects around the continent led by national governments hope to increase and improve airports and infrastructure. One such case is the renovation of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi, Kenya.
The emergence of new and low cost airlines such as Fly540, Fastjet, and Safewise have also made air transport in Africa cheaper than ever before. Fares have sunk as low as $10, made possible by the fact that the airlines make perks such as refreshments optional, thus giving clients the chance to lower the total costs of flights. However, these low cost carriers are often barred by national governments from flying international routes, in a bid to protect national carriers despite them suffering from poor financial management. These roadblocks have forced affordable airlines like Safewise to concentrate on operations in South Africa, while African travellers are forced to fork out more cash than Western visitors to fly to international destinations.
In spite of these challenges, the African aviation industry has proven to be a vital key to economic development and is prime for growth and expansion. It is therefore necessary for national governments to consider reducing visa and destination restrictions on African tourists and low cost carriers alike. Africa’s dependence on purely foreign tourism, especially in light of looming travel embargos, is a pitfall that could result in the collapse of several tourist industries across the continent.