Africa is growing incredibly rapidly. By the year 2100, according to this great data page from UNICEF, 40% of the world's population will live on the continent. It is home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world.
A 2014 report by management consultants InterVISTAS suggests that the liberalisation of air services across just 12 African nations would create 155,000 jobs and boost gross domestic product (GDP) in the region by $1.3 billion.
The 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision pledged to open up air transport markets within Africa to transnational competition across 12 African states - Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda – but progress towards liberalisation has been slow. The result is that while it is still relatively easy to fly from the south to the north of the continent flying east to west is far more difficult and expensive; many travellers have to transfer via London, Paris or Frankfurt if they want to make east-west connections, rather than Lagos, Bangui or Kampala.
“Connectivity is critical for African growth and development, supporting some 6.9 million jobs and US$80.5 billion in economic activity.” Said Dr Elijah Chingosho, Secretary General of the African Airlines Association, speaking in July 2014 and citing figures from the Aviation Benefits Beyond Borders report. “Of the 6.9 million jobs supported (by aviation) across the African continent, 428,000 are within the industry itself and the rest are supported as part of the industry’s supply chain and the significant role air transport plays in the tourism sector.”
President Obama, at summit of African leaders he hosted in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago, highlighted as a top focus area the need to "expand trade that creates jobs... today we can focus on what we can do, as governments, to accelerate investment - economic and regulatory reforms, regional integration, and development so that growth is broad-based, especially among women, who must be empowered for economies to truly flourish."
But the lack of connectivity and the relatively high cost of aviation infrastructure are holding back the ability of many African businesses to compete in the global market. “According to recent studies, the transport costs as a share of the value of exports in Africa vary between 30% to 50% whereas in other developing countries, it is around 17%,” said Dr Elijah Chingosho.
Despite these challenges there are positive signs now for African aviation. Strong growth of African economies, a widening middle income class plus the influx of foreign investment are spurring air transport growth there. Africa is more or less like China in 1970s or early 1980s, according to Dr Chingosho, “when connectivity was limited and safety, infrastructure and an ageing fleet were major issues.”
Major airport development programmes are underway at Nairobi, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Maputo, Addis Ababa, Luanda and Windhoek.
“Increased intra-African air connectivity is essential if Africa is to seize the opportunities for growth promised by its demographic and resources advantages” said Raphael Kuuchi, IATA’s Vice President for Africa “It is absurd that it is possible to travel 13 times a week from Nairobi to London yet impossible to travel directly from Nairobi to Dakar. A potential five million passengers a year are being denied the opportunity to travel, trade, and spread economic and social development.”