Forecasting African Aviation: Building Fleets and Improving Safety
by Yolaan Begbie, Africa.com
Africa is expected to be one of the fastest growing regions in terms of air traffic in the world, second only to China. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says international passenger growth of 7.7 percent is expected over the next few years. The founder of the African Business Travel Association (ABTA), Monique Swart, says she's seen first-hand the rapid rise in business travel across the continent, as companies expand their African networks: “Many global corporations who first opened their doors in South Africa in the early to mid-90s are now starting to branch out into other fast-developing countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, and Kenya.”
Adding to IATA's prediction that international cargo will increase by 5.8 percent over the next few years, it becomes evident that there is an urgent need to increase capacity both on and off the ground. Sub-Saharan Africa, reports the Airbus Global Market Forecast, will need more than 540 new aircrafts by 2020 to accommodate rapidly increasing demand.
Ethiopia Flies "Africa First"
Airlines are clearly stocking on new fleet. In August, Ethiopian Airlines became
one of the first owners of the new Boeing Dreamliner
, described as the most technologically advanced commercial aircraft in the world. Dubbed “Africa First,” the plane is praised by its manufacturers for its use of lightweight materials to cut fuel costs, though the 787-8 model comes with a hefty $206.8 million price tag. “Africa First” is the first of 10 that the airline has ordered, half of which are expected to be delivered by the end of the year.
Ethiopian’s Dreamliners are not the only ones to have been ordered by airlines on the continent. Boeing's order sheet shows that over the past five years, Nigeria's Arik Air, Rwanda's RwandAir, and Angola's SonAir have placed orders and/or received delivery of a Boeing aircraft. Direct competitors Airbus lists Cote d'Ivoire-based Air Afrique, Arik Air, and South African Airways (SAA) among those recent buyers from the continent.
Expansion of Airports
There’s movement on the ground, too. Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport Expansion Project
is well underway. Reportedly costing more than $140 million, it’s an investment officials there say is needed to address “capacity and other operational constraints.” The East African country is one of the continent’s main ports of entry. Kenya’s Cumulative Passenger Traffic report shows that in 2010, close to five and a half million passengers passed through its doors on both domestic and international flights, up eight percent from the previous year.
Neighboring Nigeria is looking to refurbish its 22 existing airports, including the country's oldest, Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport. Desperate to attract further funding, Aviation Minister Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah this month led a three-nation roadshow, meeting business communities in China, United States, and Canada. In Beijing, China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd (the same company that built the African Union Headquarters in Ethiopia) pledged its support. So too did one of the world's largest aircraft manufacturers, Bombardier, in Canada. Speaking there, Oduah said Nigeria's annual passenger traffic is currently close to 15 million, and growing by seven percent every year. She's confident the country will have five new international airports by the end of next year.
For four years, Angola International Airport, just outside the country's capital of Luanda, has been under construction. Once completed—the target is this year—it would have sufficient capacity to handle 15 million passengers annually. South Sudan's Juba International Airport also remains a work in progress. Officials recently announced a $158 million loan from China to help speed up the project, which will include widening and lengthening runways to enable large aircrafts to safely land there.
All this is good news for the continent. But poor safety records remain a stumbling block—it's costing lives and is obviously bad for business. ABTA's Monique Swart says, “Many companies with strict traveller safety policies will simply ban all travel to a certain region if the airline options are not safe and reputable, or in some instances will hire private charter companies.”
Since the start of this year numerous incidents have made headlines. Most recently, an aircraft crashed in Sudan, killing all 30 people on board, including several senior government officials. In June, more than 150 died when a flight by Nigeria's Dana Air crashed as it was about to land at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos. A preliminary investigation report seems to point at engine failure. A day earlier, 10 people were killed when a Nigerian cargo plane overshot a runway and slammed into a passenger bus near Ghana's capital of Accra. Authorities believed a brake failure was to blame.
Stakeholders from across the continent, along with international organizations, have held countless summits and workshops about improving safety standards. Recently, a commitment was made to a five-step Africa Strategic Improvement Action Plan
that largely focuses on improving and implementing regulations—one of the main contributing factors of aviation accidents along with the lack of flight data analysis (FDA) and Safety Management Systems (SMS)—all factors that can easily be prevented.
Despite rapid infrastructural development, experts agree that safety must come first and must remain a priority if the sector is to reach its potential—one the continent both wants and needs.