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Flying in Africa – more expensive than it should be…

The Lund University School of Aviation blog has for years mainly produced content in Swedish, with only a few exceptions. However, due to requests we will from now on aim to write some of our posts in English. This is the first one in what hopefully will be a regular occurrence of blog posts for a wider audience.

Africa is a vast continent with a growing population. Nothing more than these two simple facts should be needed to highlight the importance of air travel for the economic growth of the countries of Africa and the opportunities for their people. The same – a vast continent and growing population – has been said before about Asia, where aviation has indeed played an important role in economic development in recent decades. In the case of Africa, adding the status of infrastructure further demonstrates the need for an effective aviation industry as there are few options for transport for any longer trips. However, in spite of positive stories of development of the industry in Africa, such as the expansion of Ethiopian Airlines to become the leading operator of the continent (link), there are still many obstacles to an industry that can serve the needs of the continent. This blog has regularly reported on the state of the aviation industry in Africa (in previous posts in Swedish, such as link, link and link) as its potential as a growth market for the aviation industry is obvious.

As reported by the website New Era Live (link below), the African Aviation Industry Group (AAIG) recently had an online event focused on reducing the cost of flying in Africa. This with the aim to unleash the potential for aviation to support economic development and integration. The theme of the event was “Achieving Affordable Air Transport across Africa”. The need for this event illustrates the paradox of aviation in Africa – given the cost base and purchasing power of passengers it could be expected to be affordable already, but it is not. This has been brought up before on conferences and by representatives of the industry as well as by industry organisations.

According to an article by Bloomberg (link), “a combination of protectionist legal barriers and regulatory hurdles, mixed with inadequate infrastructure, high taxes, and stubborn nationalism” is behind this situation. Adding to that bureaucracy and corruption and there is no more surprise in regards to the high cost of flying in Africa. In 1999 forty-four African nations agreed to promote competition and remove regulatory barriers, but progress has been slow. There has also been what looks like step backwards, such as seemingly endless support for failing flag carriers (e.g. South African Airways – link), the re-nationalisation of Kenya Airways (link) and the re-launch of a national carrier in Uganda (link). While there may be justifiable arguments for these actions, the large costs involved and the competing priorities for such funds make it difficult to see how such support is a net benefit to the wider population in these countries.

Africa has been transformed by its economic development in recent decades. While remaining challenges should be fully recognised, more people have improved lives and better opportunities than their parents had. Also, many Africans now work abroad, not only in neighbouring countries but also overseas (similar to the development seen in Asia). This is providing injections to the economies of their home countries via remittances. While aviation is just one small part of what can support further positive development in Africa, it is a part that would benefit from the removal of the current set of obstacles for air travel. Hopefully the recent AAIG event can recommit the nations of Africa to facilitate flying and provide their citizens with the opportunities this will bring.

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Actions defined for reducing high cost of African aviation

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