In a significant indication of the increasing interconnectedness and economic growth taking place on the African continent, African Airline companies witnessed a large growth in passenger travel this year.
According to recently published data provided by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), African airlines achieved an annual passenger travel growth of 34.7% when compared to June 2022 data, although their recovery to pre-pandemic levels is still lagging behind, as these growth levels are still behind 2019 levels.
It is also important to note that while the African airline industry is growing at a rapid pace, their global passenger share still remains rather low, at 2.1%, also according to the recently published IATA data. African airlines have an ongoing opportunity to grow and expand, but not without rather significant challenges.
This rapidly increasing recovery in the Aviation industry is also being marked with major airlines opening new and resuming old flight destinations, such as South African Airways resuming intercontinental flights by reintroducing flights between Johannesburg and Sao Paulo, Brazil.
In the future, African airline companies will most likely want to increase flights between South America and Africa, as data shows that travel between these two continents is increasing in demand, as seen by the almost one million passengers who traveled between the two continents in 2019, either for leisure or transit purposes. Transit is especially important to this potential growth, as many passengers use the African continent to get from South America to Asia, as witnessed by Ethiopian Airlines running almost daily flights between Addis Ababa and Sao Paulo, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina, where most of these passengers are transiting in the Ethiopian capital.
However, there still exist some significant challenges for African Airline companies on their quest to capitalize on increasing travel demand. For starters, the industry is hampered by challenges in the supply chain of airplanes themselves, as they are commonly delayed and experience shortages in spare parts. This means that if a plane is out for whatever reason, they're out much longer than their European, North American, or Asian counterparts. Given that African airlines tend to purchase airplanes from Airbus or Boeing, with the former being manufactured all across Europe and the latter in Washington State, USA, the ordered planes also experience a large travel time just to get to their destinations.
In addition to supply chain issues and their consequences, instability on the continent, particularly in the Sahel and Western regions, make flying a place full of civilian passengers quite risky. Niger, a rather large country situated in the heart of the Sahel and just directly north of major West African population centers such as Lagos, Port Harcourt, Accra, and Yaounde, just closed their airspace, which threaten airline companies with longer flights, as well as canceled or suspended flights between destinations.
In order for Africa to be able to compete with the more established European or North American air travel markets, they will need to increase destinations provided by African airlines, as well as increase airport capacity and modernity so they may be hubs for international travel, as well as addressing major obstacles in regards to supply chains and instability.