Importance of aviation to Africa’s economic growth

OBVIOUSLY, there are lots of issues militating against the development of aviation on the African continent which, without doubt, has been the bane of the growth of the sector.

Presently, talking about African airlines that are doing well, the only one that readily comes to mind is Ethiopian Airlines, an African airline that has succeeded in meeting its 2025 target seven years ahead, against all odds. Others struggling to remain afloat include: South African Airways, EgyptAir, Royal Air Maroc and Kenya Airways.

When it comes to generating revenue in Africa’s airspace, global carriers are the beneficiaries with only one or two African airlines in the top 10 most lucrative air routes in Africa.

The below standard performances of the African airlines are mainly responsible for the collapse of previous African carriers such as Nigeria Airways, Air Afrique, Ghana Airways, Afriqiyyah among others.

The continent has the highest number of airlines that had gone into extinction due to many challenges ranging from corruption, mismanagement, government unlawful interferences, infrastructural decay, to the hijack of flight operations on the continent by foreign airlines.

To say the airline business on the continent is speedily winding down may not be an understatement as confirmed by the gathering at the recent African Aviation MRO Africa co-located with African Aviation Training held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The failure of the African leaders including Nigeria to give priority to the low state of the airlines has remained the bane of air transport and poor connectivity to the continent.

Speaking at the conference, the Chief Executive Officer of African Aviation Services Limited and the Chairman, African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA), Mr Nick Fadugba went down the memory lane to recall how many African national carriers including Air Afrique, Air Zaire, Ghana Airways, Nigeria Airways, Zambia Airways, Uganda Airlines and Air Tanzania collapsed like a pack of cards due to what he described as government interference, mismanagement, poor infrastructure, foreign competition and financial losses.

While lamenting how the African aviation sector is being dominated by foreign carriers and in the midst of the low performances of the remaining African carriers with the efforts of the African countries to float new airlines, Fadugba declared: “The question, perhaps, is whether lessons have been learnt from the failure of the previous national carriers in Africa.”

Without doubt, in the whole of Africa, Ethiopian Airlines and the government of the country seem to be the only one that understood the benefits of air transport to include seamless connectivity and easy movement of its citizens and business partners across the world on one side, apart from the huge economic benefits to the country.

While Ethiopia, having discovered the immense gains of air transport business and has continued to explore all opportunities that will position the national carrier at par with the mega carriers of this world, sadly, other African countries led by Nigeria with all its natural structures have continued to wobble.

With particular reference to Nigeria, the sad story is glaringly steering everyone on the face as the country described as the giant of the continent is lacking the necessary attributes required to float a national carrier even as it fails to protect the few private carriers it has.

In Nigeria, for example, it has become rocket science to float a national carrier that smaller countries like Ghana can achieve faster than expected. Rather than back up its domestic airlines in the face of hostilities and aero politics, Nigeria has continued to support the dominance of its aviation sector by foreign airlines.

According to statistics given at the Addis Ababa African Aviation MRO Conference, presently, the market shares between the foreign carriers and their African counterparts on African soil was put at 80 per cent ratio for foreign carriers while less than 20 per cent is staggered amongst the African carriers.

Despite the unlimited opportunities the foreign carriers enjoyin Africa, air transport fares on the continent have been adjudged as the most expensive with over 45 per cent higher than what is obtained in other continents.

At the end of the 29th MRO African Conference in Addis Ababa, it was unanimously agreed that the main challenges confronting the sector include: the lackadaisical attitude to aviation by African governments, hence, the need for support from governments in the areas of taxes reduction and infrastructural upgrade.

The take home reality is that African governments have to support aviation since the continent depends on aviation to connect to the world.

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