The importance of air travel is being recognised in Africa

Africa has long been considered the next big market in aviation. African aviation is taking off, and this market is finally being tapped into thanks to the creation of low-cost carriers and increased services from outside of the continent.

The African market – excluding South Africa – is forecast to become one of the fastest growing over the next 20 years. Malawi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Central African Republic, Uganda and Ethiopia make up the majority of the ten markets believed to be the fastest growing passenger markets. With increased services within and to Africa, as well as considerable aircraft purchases, it is clear to see why.

Air travel in Africa is being revolutionised thanks to various different carriers including Royal Air Maroc, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines. Many of the network schedules of these carriers have focussed around improving connectivity within the continent, and further afield. Within the last 12 months, Royal Air Maroc has cut prices on its Dakar – Casablanca service, upping frequency to a three times daily service, as well as adding a second daily flight between Casablanca and Oujda, Morocco.

Kenya Airways has announced it will operate a three times weekly service between Nairobi and Cape Town from July 2016 – this will be the second South African city the carrier will serve along with existing route to Johannesburg. The Nairobi to Cape Town service will also be linked to Livingstone, Zambia. 

Ethiopian Airlines, who has the largest fleet in Africa, has placed firm orders for 14 A350-900 aircraft to be delivered within the next three years. The first two are leased from Air Corp, and will be delivered in May and June this year. The airline will receive the remaining 12 aircraft between 2017 and 2019. This is a milestone deal as it is the first time the African carrier has ordered Airbus, as they typically it has previously utilised Boeing aircraft. The total value of the 12 aircraft is estimated at $2.9 billion. The carrier has seen profits rise each year since 2011. In 2014-2015, the airline grew earnings 12 percent to $165 million.

Ethiopian Airlines' CEO, Tewolde Gebremarian has said that Africa is the next and final frontier in globalisation, claiming he wants to “see African aviation growing very fast in line with the economic development of the continent.”

“Road transport is underdeveloped, railway transport is underdeveloped, the terrain of the continent is a challenge, so air transport is a key essential public service. And it has to be seen as such,” he added.

Air Côte d’Ivoire has ordered two A320neos and two A320s from Airbus. This firm order aligns with the growth expected of the Ivorian flag carrier. The airline hopes to be operating nine aircraft by the end of the year, and aims to carry 700,000 passengers in the 2016 calendar year, up from 600,000 last year.

It has made significant growth since their inaugural year in 2013, including fleet, routes, market shares, number of investors and passengers transported. Since then, revenues have grown by 24 percent from approximately $44.55 million to $125.61 million. This year, Air Côte d’Ivoire will expand domestic and regional services, planning to add four more routes to the existing network.

There are also plans to double the Abidjan – Accra route to offer customers more choice. Air Côte d’Ivoire has the largest share of passengers travelling through Abidjan to any of its destinations. This figure has increased from 42 percent in 2013 to 64 percent in 2014 and up to 78 percent in 2015.

In February this year, Emirates upgauged their services to Zimbabwe and Zambia, offering customers a further 97 Economy Class seats. The additional capacity highlights the growing demand for the route, which has been in operation for five years. This link offers a whole wealth of connectivity, departing from the Gulf carrier’s hub in Dubai.

As Africa's population continues to grow air travel could become more accessible than ever before. The ten youngest populations in the world are all in Africa, with the median age ranging from 14.8 years to 17.0 years. Niger, Uganda, Chad, Angola, Mali, Somali, Gambia, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso are all home to these emerging generations.

They truly are the future, with this youthful population being considered a major advantage for the continent as an increasing working age population is a major opportunity for economic growth. With adequate education and jobs, $500 billion a year could be added to African economies for 30 years.

It has been forecasted that the African region will take delivery of 240 new Embraer jets in the 70 to 130 segment over the next 20 years. The main drivers of air transport demand are economic expansion, a growing urban middle class, continued market liberalisation and regional integration. There is plenty of opportunity for connectivity within the continent, yet traffic remains concentrated in larger cities – eight out of 300 airports operating in 2015 connected 25 or more cities.

Almost 55 percent of intra-regional markets served do not have direct flights, whereas 67 percent of non-stop markets within the region are served with less than one daily frequency. Despite the advances in aviation in the African market, these figures show that there is still much room for improvement.

Speaking at Indaba 2016 earlier this month, Derek Hanekom, South Africa’s Tourism Minister said: “Air transport services remain a key constraint. Many major airlines fly to Africa from North America, Europe, and Asia. But, once visitors reach the continent, they encounter difficulties in travelling from country to country.” 

Improved intra-African connectivity can be achieved through attendance at Routes Africa 2016 in Tenerife; the only annual route development forum for Africa.