Magazine article New African


Magazine article New African


Article excerpt

Striving for a single African sky: The lack of direct flights between African countries holds back economic integration and makes journeys much longer for passengers. By increasing connectivity, the African Union's Single African AirTransport Market initiative promises to end travellers' misery and boost economic growth.

For many travellers, moving across the length and breadth of Africa can prove daunting. Not only are flights expensive but more often than not there are no direct flights between African countries. In addition, major airlines that operate from out of the continent involve layovers in faraway cities like Dubai, Paris or Istanbul.

Currently only five countries have direct flights connecting to more than 20 other African countries --Ethiopia (30), Kenya (28), Morocco (27), South Africa (25) and Nigeria (20). There are no direct flights from Addis Ababa to Tunis for example, with the fastest one-stop flight between the cities taking close to 11 hours. However, stopovers of more than 24 hours are common.

These are some of the challenges caused by an unconnected Africa.

Africa has 118 international airports and over 500 domestic airports. The main regions of traffic growth are North Africa (Egypt, Morocco,Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya); Southern Africa (mainly South Africa); Eastern Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, and Rwanda) and Western Africa (Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal).

Availability of air transport is indispensable for a number of countries due to inaccessibility of large parts of the continent by surface modes of transport (road and rail). The continent has 15 landlocked countries with poor surface transport infrastructure and eight island states. A 1600 metre runway is sufficient for a short or medium haul airline to interconnect most of the major cities. It is cheaper to construct and cheaper to maintain as compared to road or rail networks. Air transport therefore offers the only way to connect the capitals of these landlocked countries and island states to other capitals across the continent.

In terms of passengers, African airlines carried some 79.5m passengers in 2015 and this is expected to grow to 303m by 2035 according to the International AirTransport Association (IATA), or higher if air transport is fully liberalised. Anticipated growth is due to population increase and rapid urbanisation, expansion of the middle class, expansion of aviation infrastructure through hub development, and adoption of an open skies policy. The Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) predicts passenger levels will rise to 602m by 2040.

Routes with liberal air services agreements have seen an increase in traffic; e.g. liberalisation of air services between South Africa and Kenya in the early 2000s led to a 69% rise in passenger traffic. Ethiopia's pursuit of more liberal bilateral agreements (on a reciprocal basis) has contributed to Ethiopian Airlines becoming one of the most profitable airlines in Africa. On intra-African routes with more liberal bilateral agreements, passengers using the Ethiopian Airlines network benefited from a 10-21% decrease in fares and 35-38% higher frequencies compared to restricted intra-Africa routes.

What is the Single African AirTransport Market (SAATM)?

SAATM is a flagship project of the African Union's Agenda 2063, and aims to create a single unified air transport market in Africa, as an impetus to the continent's economic integration and growth agenda. …

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