Africa As New Airlines’ Growth Frontier

Africa being among the fastest growing aviation markets, with the sector expected to be valued at $400 billion by 2040 and annual increases in passenger traffic of 5.4 percent, the region is up for grab by ‘marauding’ airlines from Europe, the United States, and Asia, among others. WOLE SHADARE writes

Unprecedented growth

With Africa’s population set to hit two billion by 2050, the region’s aviation industry is poised for unprecedented growth. This is creating opportunities for many airlines across the globe that is seeing the continent as a new fertile ground for business as aviation companies are struggling to enter the burgeoning market. Africa is home to 17 percent of the world’s population, but the continent currently accounts for just two percent of global air traffic.

It boasts over 477 airports and 419 airlines currently operate in the region just as the industry is said to be worth $80 billion. Despite COVID-19 that grounded air travel around the globe, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) believes the market will expand by five percent annually over the next 20 years; putting it among the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets.

Air transport connectivity in the continent is as appalling as it sounds. This is not helped by the fact that many African countries are landlocked. Travelling within Africa is not only cumbersome but frustrating, to say the least. There are huge distances between cities. For example, a trip from Kinshasa to Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo can take four weeks by car but just two and a half hours by plane. There is limited alternative infrastructure. It further bleeds the heart that over 80 percent inter-African traffic is controlled by foreign carriers; a situation that hasn’t helped the continent’s airlines to be profitable except for Ethiopian Airlines and maybe, Egypt Air. Still, some African carriers have met the challenge by investing in modern aircraft and adopting creative strategies.

Leading the charge

Big carriers from the Gulf are leading the charge. Qatar Airways, Dubai-based Emirates, and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways see the market as easy pickings in their backyard. Meanwhile, US airlines that never served Africa are discovering the continent. And in a sign of Africa’s renewal, a growing number of carriers from the continent are expanding operations, although competing with global giants is proving tough. The potential losers are European airlines, which until recently offered the only reliable connections to many African countries.

READ ALSO:  Fleet rationalisation as airlines’ competitive edge

“The Europeans have suddenly started to wake up,” Emirates President Tim Clark says. While European carriers slowed their African expansion in recent years, “we saw it as a huge opportunity.”

Emirates is closing in on Air France as the non-African carrier with the most traffic to Africa, according to consulting firm Innovata LLC. Airlines were alerted to Africa’s potential by the rise of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, which account for a growing share of Africa’s international trade and themselves are among the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets.

Not long ago, the modest African traffic consisted mostly of Western business people, a few Africans who could afford to fly, and international aid workers. Now, seats hold rising numbers of African business people and citizens with newfound personal wealth. Chinese construction firms, Australian mining giants, and US oil companies also fill flights.

Airlines inside and outside Africa are upbeat about the growing opportunities and huge potential in the continent’s aviation industry. Driving this growth is Qatar Airways as it adds more routes on the continent and scales up its operations by acquiring or forging partnerships with other airlines operating there.

Qatar marks successful Nigerian routes

Qatar Airways is however marking the first anniversary of its successful Kano (KAN) and Port Harcourt (PHC) services, which have facilitated increased passenger traffic and commerce between these important West African hubs and the rest of the world.

Turkish Airlines

The multi-award-winning airline launched the four weekly flights to Kano on March 2, 2022, and the next day started three weekly services to Port Harcourt. Both operate via Abuja using one of the state-of-the-art Boeing B787 Dreamliner. The new services made Nigeria Qatar Airways the most connected market in Africa, bolstering the double-daily schedule to Lagos and daily Abuja flights. It also expanded the airline’s presence in Africa to more than 190 weekly flights serving 28 destinations across the continent.

READ ALSO:  Bleak 2019 for Nigeria, African carriers as IATA forecast $300M loss

Hendrik du Preez, Qatar Airways’ Vice-President Africa, said: “Kano is Nigeria’s second-largest city and an important cultural, commercial, and trade hub. The four weekly services have helped meet passenger and cargo demand from the UAE and India.

“The three Port Harcourt flights link Nigeria’s petroleum hub to the world’s financial and petrochemical capitals. There has been good reciprocal demand between Port Harcourt destinations in the USA and UK. “Africa is one of Qatar Airways’ key growth regions in its global network and milestones such as these anniversaries underpin our investment in and commitment to the continent.” In addition to opening the Kano and Port Harcourt routes, since the pandemic, Qatar Airways started operations to Luanda, Harare, and Lusaka and reinstated flights to Windhoek.

International Airlines

More recently it announced a comprehensive codeshare with Airlink in South Africa. This gives travellers to and from southern Africa, more choices, enhanced services, and greater connectivity between 45 destinations in 13 countries across the region. To mark the anniversaries, Qatar Airways is offering up to 30% discount on the fares from Nigeria to the rest of the world. The offer is valid until March 15, 2023. Qatar Airways currently flies to more than 150 destinations worldwide, connecting through its Doha hub, Hamad International Airport, named the ‘Best Airport in the World” by Skytrax World Airport Awards 2022.

Expert’s view

Du Preez, in an interview with our correspondent early last year, said: “There is huge potential across the continent for new routes.” Expect more announcements soon. He added: “Qatar Airways got ownership in a number of airlines globally. We are shareholders of the IAG group for instance. We have worked closely with Rwandair over the last couple of months. We announced the first part of the codeshare agreement which will cover 65 destinations on our network and their network.

READ ALSO:  FG projects 60 million traffic annually

“That is one of the areas that are underserved historically and for us to work closely with Rwandair to feed into their network and to have access to a broader network globally. It is what we are working on closely at this stage. We will be able to make more announcements, about how we are strengthening it and building together.

African airlines

“It affected us but we never stopped flying and we started much quicker. That is the agility we have had. We are in good stead right now but most countries are re-opening their borders. A lot of countries are relaxing restrictions and with that, the confidence of travelers would be boosted at the end of the day. A lot of people are not confident enough to travel because what happens if they are halfway to their destinations and they don’t know what is going to happen?

As more countries relax, you see more confidence building up, you will see a sharp steep curve of regaining momentum again. I hope so anyway.” The carrier with over 140 destinations across its network and partnerships, has twenty African airlines including RwandAir, with which it sealed a milestone codeshare agreement last year in Kigali, Rwanda. RwandAir and Qatar Airways signed a comprehensive codeshare agreement to offer travelers more choice, enhanced service, and greater connectivity to more than 65 destinations across Africa and the rest of the world.

Last line

In the past decade, Turkish Airlines has tripled the number of African cities it serves — from 18 to 56, while other Middle Eastern, European, and Asian airlines, are adding routes as well.

Wole Shadare