Technology has definitely been a focal point in improving development on the African continent. So, it comes as no surprise that the aviation industry in Africa has benefitted from this development over the last few years.
Airlines from the African continent, such as Air Peace from Nigeria have now established new flight routes. Back in 2019, the airline had announced long haul flights to Sharjah, U.A.E and Johannesburg, South Africa. Cabo Verde Airlines, the flagship airline carrier for the country of Cape Verde, also recently announced in December 2019 new routes to Washington D.C from Sal. In addition, the airline would also have direct flights from Washington Dulles international to Lagos, Murtala Muhammad International airport, Recife, Brazil and Luanda, Angola.
Ethiopian Airlines remains the most successful airline on the continent, due to the strategic management of the airline, its early alliance with global technical partners, Trans World Airlines (TWA) and more interestingly, the growing rise of Ethiopia as a new holiday destination to foreigners. Bloomberg reports that Ethiopian Airlines had a 25% increase in profits of about $260 million in 2018-19, as they carried more passengers and cargo.
Additionally, the success of Ethiopian Airlines has helped Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to grow the number of international transfer passengers in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the Center for Aviation, Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport has had a $345 million investment to upgrade new terminals within the airport. The report from the Center of Aviation also states that Ethiopia’s Bole Airport has surpassed Dubai International Airport as the leading gateway into the region.
This also came at a time when the international bookings for Ethiopia, during the period of November 2018 – January 2019, was up by more than 40% compared to the previous year, according to the centre for Aviation. Ethiopian Airlines also built a strategic alliance with Asky which flies the West and Central Africa routes. With the success of the airline, the country plans to build Africa’s largest airport outside Addis Ababa for 5 billion dollars, according to Bloomberg. This new airport will be able to handle as many as 100 million passengers yearly. Imagine what this will do for Ethiopia with African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA).
As we bring it back home, several cities across Nigeria have also opened up airports within their vicinities. More recently, Asaba, the capital city of Delta State, received the green light by the Nigerian government to operate as an international airport. This came after a previous ruling in 2015 by the Nigerian Civil Authority, downgraded the airport’s capacity. The Guardian reported that the rundown runways, taxiways, lack of perimeter fence and personnel training were just some of the reasons why larger aircraft like a 737 could not land at the Asaba airport, which forced its downgrade in 2015.
With Asaba now fully operating as an international airport, it gives Nigeria the opportunity to establish another city as a new hub for international visitors. This could help generate revenue, which could be used to improve other functions within the city.
While aviation in Africa is booming, we cannot shy away from the fact that there are still challenges in this industry. In most African countries, airport infrastructures remain outdated and they fail to serve the growing number of passengers and cargo. There is also the problem of electricity. Countries like Nigeria still grapple with 24/7 electricity in 2020 and this could be a major problem because power would be needed to aid the process of boarding flights.
Another problem that African airports and airlines are faced with is the issue of government ownership. Government ownership in Africa has unfortunately led to the mismanagement of several facilities. This is why a handful of African airports are still underdeveloped. Foreign investments are also usually discouraged from the ownership of airlines or airports.
According to the World Economic Forum, the country of Malawi makes it illegal for a foreign airline or private investor to own more than 49% of a national airline. This law was the reason Ethiopian Airlines was prevented from purchasing the 49% stake in Malawian Airlines. Ironically, Ethiopian Airlines is owned by government but allows the independent management, adept reputable and competent teams that ensure global best practice. The airline is giving other international airlines a run for their money.
Progress has definitely been made in the aviation space over the past years; however, there still remains more work to be done before we can have the airport in Lagos or Accra competing with the likes of John F. Kennedy International Airport or the London Heathrow Airport in the United Kingdom.
Africa may be the future, but Africans have to wake up to own this space for the future.
Paul Olele Jnr writes from Washington DC. He is a 2019 graduate of George Washington University and currently works as graduate Media and Research Intern at the Initiative for Global Development.