Africa’s Sky-High Flight Costs Hindering Continent’s Progress

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Key Takeaways

  • Intra-African flights are significantly more expensive than intercontinental ones, hindering regional travel and business growth.
  • Improved connectivity and liberal markets could create jobs and boost GDP by over $1.3 billion in 12 key African countries, as per IATA.
  • Introducing budget airlines could enhance connectivity, reduce costs, and stimulate tourism and job creation in Africa.
  • Limited road and rail networks make air travel a practical choice for cargo despite environmental concerns.
  • Africa faces hurdles in integrating its aviation sector despite initiatives like SAATM, hindering economic growth and cooperation.

Traveling by air within Africa is a costly affair, more so than in any other region across the globe. Air travelers find themselves subjected to hefty ticket prices and substantial taxes. In a startling comparison, flying from Africa to another continent is often more cost-effective than to a neighboring African country.

A BBC News story indicates that a direct flight of less than three hours from Berlin, Germany, to Istanbul, Turkey, will likely cost around $150. However, flying a similar distance from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, can range between $500 and $850, potentially involving changes and up to 20 hours in transit time. 

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This scenario significantly hampers intra-African business, inflating costs and affecting more than elite travelers.

Potential for Improved Connectivity and Economic Uplift

According to a report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), enhancing connectivity and liberalizing markets in just 12 key African countries could create 155,000 jobs and augment the GDP of those countries by over $1.3 billion. Kamil al-Awadhi, IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East, affirms that aviation boosts GDP and stimulates economies by generating jobs.

Similarly, Adefolake Adeyeye, an assistant professor of commercial law at Durham University, UK, posits that Africa’s underdeveloped air service results in missed economic opportunities. Like elsewhere, budget airlines could improve connectivity and cost-effectiveness in Africa, potentially spurring tourism and job creation.

“It’s been shown that air transport does boost the economy,” Adeyeye told BBC. “As we’ve seen in other continents, budget airlines can improve connectivity and cost, which boosts tourism, which then creates many more jobs,” she says.

The Practical Choice and Carbon Footprint

The story stated that with poor road networks and scant railways in many African countries, air transport often emerges as a practical choice for cargo transportation. However, amidst the climate emergency that has severely impacted Africa, there’s a pressing need to reduce carbon footprints by flying less. Yet, while approximately 18% of the world’s population resides in Africa, it contributes to less than 2% of global air travel and merely 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, the US and China contribute 19% and 23%, respectively.

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Aspiring Middle Class and Aviation Sector Integration

Despite the prevalent poverty in Africa, a burgeoning middle class could afford air travel if ticket prices were aligned with those in Europe or elsewhere. African states have strived to integrate their aviation sectors for years, with limited success.

In the report, Zemedeneh Negatu, global chairman of the US-based Fairfax Africa Fund, emphasizes the need for a coherent strategy to address Africa’s inadequate air service to transform its economies. He highlighted the need for African airlines to form significant partnerships akin to those in Europe, such as Air France-KLM and the International Airlines Group (IAG) formed by British Airways and Iberia.

Fragmented System and The Single African Air Transport Market Initiative

The story highlighted that despite 35 countries being part of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), an African Union (AU) initiative aiming to liberalize the skies for African airlines and reduce costs, the current African aviation system remains fragmented, and its full implementation could take years.

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IATA’s Mr. Awadhi laments the reluctance of governments to cooperate, with each state clinging to its ineffective remedies and protective measures, which could potentially harm the aviation industry.

What We Think

Africa’s aviation challenges, including high costs and fragmented systems, obstruct economic potential and inhibit inclusive travel.

Addressing these issues requires concerted efforts in liberalizing markets, fostering strategic partnerships, and implementing initiatives like the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) effectively.

By aligning costs, improving connectivity, and reducing carbon footprints, Africa can unlock economic growth, bolster tourism, and create job opportunities in the aviation sector.

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