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Countries need more than the advantage of geographical location to become a hub, write WOLE SHADARE
The air transport market in sub-Saharan Africa presents a strong dichotomy. In southern and eastern Africa the market is growing, with three strong hubs and three major African carriers dominating international and domestic markets, which are becoming increasingly concentrated.
In contrast, in central and western Africa, the sector is stagnating, with the vacuum created by the collapse of national airlines such as Nigeria Airways, Ghana Airways including Air Afrique, among others with their dreams unfilled.
Throughout, there are many unviable small state-owned operations depending on subsidy and a monopoly in the domestic market. There are some promising signs. Growth in air traffic has been buoyant. The number of routes and size of aircraft are being adapted to the market and a number of large carriers are viable and expanding.
However, in spite of this, overall connectivity has been declining. As oil prices rise, the role of air transportation will be looked at even more critically. Africa is a poor continent, and some countries face the potential of further isolation as the cost of flying increases.
Following a significant global decline in 2001, Africa’s air transport industry grew at a healthy 5.76 per cent per year between 2001 and 2007. Growth between 2004 and 2007 rose 10.68 per cent, to roughly 123 million seats annually. The aggregated figures for Africa show growth in all types of scheduled air travel: intercontinental traffic, international traffic within Africa, and domestic travel Intercontinental traffic in the region relies heavily on the three major hubs of Johannesburg, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. It has grown at an annual average rate of 6.2 per cent between 2001 and 2007.
Main hubs feed Middle East
While the South Africa routes to the U.K. and Germany are still the most heavily trafficked, the most notable feature of this growth is the significant rise in service through the Middle East from all of the main hubs. North African intercontinental grew 8.3 per cent during the same period, with the most dominant routes being between France and Morocco, Algeria, and Tunis. Egypt serves as another important entry point from Germany, the Russian Federation, and the Middle East.
International traffic within Sub-Saharan Africa grew more rapidly, at an average of 6.5 per cent between 2001 and 2007, with traffic between the region and North Africa growing at 25 per cent per year. The same three major hubs handle 36 per cent of this international traffic (figure B). In each case the inter-SSA traffic of these hubs is dominated by the national airline. South African Airways, Kenya Airlines, and Ethiopian Airlines provide 33 per cent, 70 per cent and 83 per cent respectively of the international traffics through their hubs. Both Kenyan Airlines and Ethiopian airlines are active in developing new routes on which they are the sole carrier, while most of the South African international routes have more than one carrier in competition.
East Africa gets the edge
East Africa has the more developed network. In West and Central Africa only Nigeria has a significant number of connections, both inter-continentally and internationally. With the collapse of national and regional carriers, the region recently suffered an absolute decline in service. North African international travel showed some of the most significant gains of over 9.5 per cent per annum between 2001 and 2007. Notwithstanding the growth in traffic, the number of city pairs served in SSA has dropped by 229 between 2001 and 2007, and if South Africa, Nigeria and Mozambique are excluded there has been an average annual decline of 1 per cent per annum and a loss of 137 routes between 2004 and 2007.
The impact of the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999, an effort to liberalize international air travel within Africa, is best measured by the amount of top-level traffic between countries. The percentage of international flights conducted by carriers not part of either country being served is highest in countries where the implementation score of the Yamoussoukro Decision is highest. Except for the Arab Maghreb Union, which is not a party to the Yamoussoukro Decision, all countries have shown an increased market proportion of these airlines between 2004 and 2007.
Domestic Sub-Saharan African traffic grew at the fastest rate of all Sub-Saharan African traffic – at over 12 per cent per annum between 2001 and 2007. On the one hand, Nigeria has experienced annual growth in domestic traffic as high as 67 per cent in Nigeria. On the other hand, about half of the countries studied experienced absolute declines in domestic air transport. Domestic air transport varies strongly from country to country, and is dependent on many factors, including topology, income per capita, and types of services available.
Ethiopia, home to one of the most important airlines in Africa, has relatively little domestic air transport. The growth in Nigeria’s domestic travel figures is so significant that they skew the overall growth figures for West and Central Africa. North African domestic traffic declined nearly four per cent. With some notable exceptions, domestic travel in most countries is serviced by the country’s flag carrier and features high market concentration.
Eastern and Western divide
Overall, a striking dichotomy emerges between the eastern and western sides of the continent. Eastern and Southern Africa, on the one hand, which have developed major hubs, are home to the three most important airlines in Sub-Saharan Africa. These airlines are an engine of growth, with the denser network of Sub-Saharan traffic. West and Central Africa went through very strong declines shortly after 2001, experienced smaller, in some cases negative, growth and development since, and is characterized by a less developed hub system. The uneven growth patterns in Sub-Saharan Africa are caused in part by the decline and collapse of major carriers in the Western portion, most notably Air Afrique, Air Gabon, Ghana Airways, and Nigerian Airways.
The major carriers in the South and the East are slowly rebuilding the drop in capacity. Ethiopian Airways and Kenyan Airways are expanding towards the declined routes and east-west traffic is slowly growing. The shock of the collapse of the traditional carriers in the region, and the expansion of South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Kenyan Airways, is leading towards much-needed consolidation of the industry in Sub-Saharan Africa. Contrary to what is often reported in the public media, Africa’s fleet of aircraft used for advertised scheduled services is being renewed, and is adjusted for the types of markets served. In virtually all regions wide-bodied aircraft have been replaced with more recent, smaller jets such as the Boeing 737. These aircraft are more efficient for short to medium haul distances. Though the accident rates involving older often Eastern-built aircraft are the highest in the world, the portion of the seat miles flown in these aircraft on regularly schedules services is now very small.
There was a general consensus that the creation of a strong national carrier or flag carrier airline has made countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Egypt some of the biggest aviation hubs in Africa.