AFRAA Secretary General – Mr. Abdérahmane Berthé, made an intervention at the 2023 Edition of the African Aviation Summit in Abuja – Nigeria themed: “painting the big picture for African airlines”.
Mr Berthé’s intervention comprised of a presentation and participation in a panel session. The presentation covered: the state of the airline industry, the economic trends, challenges and opportunities for the airline industry.
On connectivity, the outlook is positive – the total number of intercontinental routes operated by African airlines exceeded the pre-COVID levels since October 2022. In some major airports (Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Lusaka, Cairo, Casablanca, Abidjan, and Lomé), the intra-Africa connectivity has reached or exceeded pre-Covid level since December 2022.
In terms of revenue loss attributed to Covid-19, Mr Berthé reported that 2023 is witnessing a narrowing of the gap. 2023 is expected to be a better year compared to 2022. Amid the high oil price above the pre-Covid levels of 2019, the Jet fuel price continues the upward trend, going up by over $22 in one month from July to August.
On cargo, the average market share of African airlines per cargo origin is 31% Year to date. North Africa comes first with 37%, followed by East Africa with 30%. The highest cargo traffic growth year on year is in North Africa, with 21% Year to date.
Among the main challenges facing the airline industry is the issue of blocked funds. Mr Berthé reported that the total blocked funds reported by six (6) AFRAA member airlines in fifteen (15) countries (13 in Africa and 2 outside Africa) is approximately US$339.1 million at the end of March 2023.
AFRAA has established a Blocked Funds Task Force with some member airlines to engage with the concerned States to unlock the funds. “We call upon governments to consider Aviation as a priority sector and reduce the level of blocked funds.” He stated.
On intra-Africa connectivity, Mr Berthé stated: “In as much as the connectivity level has exceeded the pre-Covid level, it still remains low with regards to the potential. 85% of flights are direct, and 15% are connecting flights. Only 21% of the direct flights are operated under the 5th freedom traffic rights.”
“This is a concern because, for many airlines, the 5th freedom traffic can improve the routes’ profitability and intra-Africa connectivity.” He added.
Another major focus area challenging the industry is the affordability of air travel. “The global average GDP per capita in 2023 is $13,920. Twenty-five (25) African countries have a per capita income of less than $1,000, while only eight (8) have more than $5,000 per capita. For a given average trip length, taxes excluded, ticket fares are more expensive in Africa. On average, ticket fares are twice and thrice higher than in Europe and Asia. With high fares and lower GDP per capita, air transport is not affordable for African citizens.” Mr Berthé emphasized.
With regards to environmental sustainability, Mr Berthe highlighted that carbon emissions from commercial flights are set to triple by 2050 amid surging travel and freight demand. Nonetheless, emissions could be slashed through aircraft technology, operations efficiency, and alternative fuels. “AFRAA members are committed to the global industry efforts towards the reduction of CO2 emissions and mitigating the impact of aviation on climate.” He stated.
“As the global Aviation industry focuses on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), Africa has an opportunity to act as a leader in feedstock production. However, there are concerns about the SAF production in volume, accessibility at airports, and cost, which is currently high. AFRAA is engaged to work with stakeholders on actions towards the 2050 Net Zero emissions goal.” He added.
He concluded his intervention by emphasizing on the need for a collaborative approach among relevant stakeholders to achieve a successful and viable African aviation industry.