African Aviation Report
Business Traveller India|August 2019

African aviation is ripe for expansion – now policymakers need to make it happen

David Whitehouse

When Alex Dichter, now a senior partner at McKinsey & Company in London, tried to go to war-torn Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in the late 1990s to do voluntary work, the first problem was getting in. There was no functioning government and no official flights. The only solution at Kigali airport in neighboring Rwanda was for Dichter to go over to the cargo area with a couple of bottles of vodka in his rucksack and use it to “hitch a ride” with one of the mercenary Russian and Ukrainian aircraft that were ferrying arms into the DRC.

There are usually more conventional ways to get a flight within Africa. But it can mean flying out to Europe and then back into Africa again. Why, for example, is it impossible to fly direct between Kinshasa in the DRC and Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos? These are already huge cities and will become megalopolises in the future.

African aviation policymakers understand the potential of greater competition and increased direct services, but have multiple and conflicting objectives and constraints, Dichter notes. They may want to increase aviation services, and also need to protect domestic aviation jobs, “but they can’t have both. The desire to protect is politically powerful.” Many countries suspect that if exposed to real competition, their own national carrier might struggle to survive.

To state the obvious, Africa is a growth market for aviation. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecasts a 5.9 percent year-on-year growth in African aviation over the next 20 years, with passenger numbers expected to increase from 100 million to more than 300 million by 2026. That suggests the possibility of Africa becoming a less fragmented continent with greater air connectivity, opening up economic benefits across the board.

An IATA survey in 2014 suggested that if 12 key African countries opened their markets and increased connectivity, an extra 1,55,000 jobs and US$1.3 billion in annual GDP would be created in those countries.

Much remains to be done if that potential is to be realized. “Too many African governments view aviation as a luxury rather than a necessity,” argues Katherine Kaczynska, IATA’s corporate communications manager for the Middle East and Africa. “That perception needs to change. The value of aviation for governments is not in the tax receipts that can be squeezed from it. It is in the economic growth and job creation that aviation supports.”

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