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For two weeks, many parts of the continent reeled under the Omicron virus ban. The continent’s air travel is counting its losses, one that further slows down travel recovery, writes WOLE SHADARE
The removal of 11 African countries from the United Kingdom’s Red List is resulting in a return of air travel by many Africans, particularly from Nigeria and Southern Africa. UK carriers, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, have reestablished services and are seeing strong demand.
Reopening coming at a price
On December 14, the UK Government removed the 11 countries from the red list after it concluded that upholding restrictions was meaningless, now that the Omicron variant of the COVID virus was already inside the country. The UK has seen soaring infection rates in the past few days.
The variant was first found in South Africa, after which the government advised the World Health Organisation (WHO). Although WHO advised keeping borders open, many countries were quick to ban any travel from southern Africa.
Rise in inbound travelers
Although many of the Southern African nations originally put on the UK’s Red List do not have strong carriers to operate outside their territories, British Airways has made a full return to Johannesburg, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and other destinations. Virgin Atlantic, another airline operating in Nigeria, is also seeing a rise in inbound passengers.
BA, in a message to its trade partners recently said: “This is to inform you that all types of visa are NOW permitted to travel to the UK on British Airways with immediate effect as Nigeria has now been removed from the Red List. We will be sending more information on necessary guidelines later. In the interim, kindly follow guidelines on the UK government website.”
The surge in travel bookings seems to come from Nigerians who had earlier canceled their flights in the face of a face-off between Nigeria and the UK over the decision by London to restrict Nigerians from traveling to the UK. The lifting of the travel ban led to what a travel agent described as a ‘mad rush’ to make bookings to visit home for the Yuletide.
President, National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Mrs. Susan Akporiaye, said the scrapping of the red list was a huge reprieve for airlines and travel agents.
She said that she had to advise thousands of people who wanted to cancel their bookings in the heat of the face-off to hold on till December 20 when it was initially agreed that the travel ban would be reviewed.
Akporiaye further stated that for those who went ahead to cancel their journeys, it would be extremely difficult for them to get seats, adding that where they find one, it would be very expensive because of travel demands on airlines.
Demand pushes fares up
Managing Director, Tour Brokers International (TBI), Mrs. Uloma Egbuna, who spoke to Aviation Metric from Canada, said people were coming back to travel, adding that “the planes are getting full again and people are making travel plans again.”
Air fares in December are high because of the demand for air travel at that time of the year. The lowest fare for an Economy Class ticket with British Airways from Lagos to London went as high as N1,114,818, while Business Class tickets sold for N2.1 million. It is almost the same for Virgin Atlantic Airways.
The fare from Abuja to London is lesser than from Lagos. Economy Class ticket from Abuja to London went for N583.350, while Business Class sold for N2.67 million.
To underscore how desperate Nigerians are to visit home for the Christmas festivities, airlines may have capitalised on that to adjust air fares.
Across Africa, for instance, airlines are finding innovative ways to build flier confidence. The continent’s air traffic decreased by 89 per cent in 2020 according to the International Air Transport Association, and profits across its airlines dropped by $2billion, but nascent signs of a travel rebound are appearing.
“Recovery of the airline industry will be much slower in Africa than the rest of the world,” says Adefunke Adeyemi, regional director of advocacy and strategic relations at IATA.
“However, Africa is leading the charge in terms of open borders. Fifty countries are currently open on a pre-departure/negative test condition with no quarantine.”
African airlines have been instrumental in the effort to open borders as they seek to get passengers back into the air. Some national carriers like Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, and Kenya Airways are aiming to bring fliers back by testing a new digital COVID-19 passport called Trusted Travel Pass, the passport was developed by the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is under the African Union, and will allow travelers to authenticate test results prior to departure.
Carriers have some additional financial runway in the form of bailouts from several African governments. Air Egypt, the national carrier has been given $191 million in long-term financing by the government. Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Burkina Faso have offered $311 million in direct support to their aviation sector.
“In Africa, $2.4 billion has been given by African governments to national carriers. We would like this extended to all carriers as they all need help,” Adeyemi says.
Although 2020 was marred by huge dips in profit and the closure of several national carriers like Air Namibia and South African Airways, the overall post-pandemic trend for aviation on the continent will be sweeping growth.
On the whole, African airlines that service mostly international travelers will reach 2019 levels of passenger traffic in 2024, according to Emmanuel Chaves, President of Airports Council International, Africa—a prediction that’s in step with projections for recovery in most other regions around the globe.
Additionally, some African countries that did not have national carriers prior to the pandemic seem confident of a resurgence of air travel within and outside the continent.
Nigeria, Ghana, Burundi, and Zambia among others have plans to launch national carriers in 2022.
When breaking down the global impact of the pandemic on the aviation industry between the different continents, it is clear that although most regions have adopted similar measures to control the outbreak, there are numerous reasons as to why its impact and expected recovery times differ among them.
The different lockdown and quarantine timings, low propensity to travel (fear), and border shutdowns, alongside each region’s air connectivity, infrastructure development, and regulatory affairs, have resulted in the COVID-19 crisis affecting each one in a different manner.
It is worth noting that in terms of revenue loss, the continents with the most developed and relevant aviation sectors are the most affected (linked to the fact that those continents also accrue most of the revenues and passengers of the industry).Google+