A number of studies have emerged showing that Africa’s economic growth is hindered by its poor air transport connectivity.
Africa is large – about three times bigger than the United States – and the vast distances are compounded by the poor land based infrastructure. Due largely to a lack of investment, roads are crumbling and rail service is sparse and unreliable.
Air transport connectivity is, therefore, essential to Africa’s economic growth. Airline industry proponents such as IATA have long argued that the geopolitical, legal and economic constraints on aviation need to be relaxed to enable African airlines to grow to commercially viable sizes, and to enable alliances to be formed.
Notably for Africa’s attraction as an investment destination, over the past seven years the continent was expected to produce economic growth of over six percent, ahead of the world average of 5.8 percent – and not far behind Asia and the Middle East. This growth was not coming from good leadership but simply because the African population is growing rapidly and there was a strong demand for African sourced raw materials.
However, the hoped-for growth of African airlines to support the broad economic growth has so far failed to materialise. Due to the growing demand for the transportation of goods and services, one of the major beneficiaries of the much hoped for African Renaissance was expected to be the airlines. Further, internal tourism, particularly visiting friends and relatives (VFR) by air, is yet to capture the African public’s imagination. IATA reports that just 10 percent of Africans use air travel.
Thus, with the on-the-ground demand and investment in Africa, the African airline industry should have boomed. However, the three Gulf Carriers and Turkish Airlines are out-smarting and out-manoeuvring African airlines. This is a serious indictment on African airline management, both at the airline level, and at the state, as airline owner, level.
The failure of African airlines to seize these opportunities and grow is caused by bad management, lack of leadership and skills, poor safety and security, lack of infrastructure, poor regulatory oversight and government interference.
Lack of investment in ground based infrastructure is a further key limiting factor to airline growth. Inadequate, obsolete and unreliable navigation aids and airport infrastructure, lack of physical and human resources, and lack of intra-African connectivity are the key challenges.
Compounding the problem is short sighted management. Liberalisation or deregulation of the African airline industry has been largely ignored. It would appear that the majority of airline-owning African states fear that the larger and better capitalised and managed airlines will threaten their own airlines, forcing them into even more crippling financial losses.
It needs to be said yet again: the implementation of ‘Open Skies’ in accordance with Yamoussoukro will open markets to the more efficient and better managed airlines, and thus make air transport far more cost effective and safe. The short-sighted protection of airlines by their owner-governments is seriously harming the continent’s growth.