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African airline traffic grows at second-fastest rate in the world, behind only Asia

The continent's air traffic is rising faster than most other regions in the world, thanks to a combination of factors including the opening of new routes and a transition to wide-body planes.

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By Conrad Onyango

Aggressive post-pandemic strategies by African airlines helped to grow their traffic faster than almost all other regional peers in 2023, according to newly-released data.

An aggressive resumption of old routes, coupled with the opening of new ones and a growing transition from narrow to wide-body planes by most flag carriers, pushed African airlines’ annual traffic growth to 38.7% in 2023, compared to 2022.

As a result, African carriers ranked second ahead of the Middle East (33.3%) Latin America ( 28.6%), North America (28.3%) and Europe (22%), according to data released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Only Asia-Pacific airlines beat African carriers, posting a whopping 126.1% rise in full-year international 2023 traffic compared to 2022.

The positive trajectory across all regions was marked by a strong industry-wide recovery, with a rebound in domestic and international travel.

“The recovery in travel is good news. The restoration of connectivity is powering the global economy as people travel to do business, further their educations, take hard-earned vacations and much more,” said IATA’s Director General, Willie Walsh. 

African carriers continue to capitalise on the rising air travel demand prospects as they adopt new strategies to grow their passenger numbers while lowering their fleet management costs.

Kenya’s national carrier for instance said in July 2023 it was adopting ‘mono fleeting’ – a single-type fleet strategy as part of the airline’s long-term fleet and route development plans.

During its 47th Annual General Meeting (AGM), Kenya Airlines disclosed that its board had approved the plans to phase out its Embraer Regional Jets and Bombardier aircraft in favour of higher-capacity Boeing aircraft to meet growing passenger demand.

“The current Embraer fleet that we have is too small. We tend to have payload issues; in other words, we cannot carry all the luggage that we need, so we want to increase the size over a period of time,” said Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer, Allan Kilavuka.  

Kenya Airways in February also announced an expansion in operations, with increased frequencies to five destinations within its network, including new routes to Eldoret (in Kenya) and Maputo, citing a steady recovery and demand for air travel.

“Our focus for FY2024 will be to continue with strategic and targeted growth to meet growing demand as the airline targets bottom line revenue growth. The network expansion is reflective of our mission of propelling Africa’s growth by connecting its people’s cultures and markets” said Kenya Airways Chief Commercial and Customer Officer, Julius Thairu in a statement.

South African Airways in January announced plans to resume flights to Perth, Australia from Johannesburg on April 28. The Perth route revival follows the carrier’s successful launch of a Sao Paulo, Brazil route on October 31, 2023.

The South African flag carrier is currently running a seat sale campaign dubbed JourneyBlitz Redemption Seat Sale by SAA Voyager to drive traffic to the new and existing routes.

“We have made many seats available exclusively for SAA-operated flights across all routes, including the newly launched international route to Perth starting on April 28, 2024, with an amazing 70%-85% discount on miles redemption,” said South African Airways on social media platform, X.

In a route update in September 2023, the airline reported growing its network to 13 domestic and regional destinations with a target of 22, including three intercontinental, 15 regional, and four domestic, by March 2025.

In mid-2023, Ethiopian Airlines forecast that its aircraft fleet in operation would grow to 271 by 2035, nearly double its 140 aircraft currently in operation.

On the cards is also the replacement of older aircraft and the streamlining of its fleet.

“These new aircraft will be used to replace older planes, as well as to expand the airline’s capacity to serve more destinations and increase frequency on existing routes” Ethiopian Airlines stated on its website.

By the close of June 2023, Ethiopian Airlines had an order book of some 29 aircraft.

Fleet expansion extends to smaller airlines like RwandAir, which expanded its fleet in March 2023 by adding a third long-haul aircraft from Airbus. Other growth areas include Somalia, which is rekindling an aviation industry that collapsed 30 years ago, opening an aircraft maintenance and overhaul facility and resuming regional flights.

Over the next two decades, Africa’s jet fleet is projected to more than double to 1,550 aircraft, with Africa’s population forecast to hit 2.17 billion, according to Boeing’s Commercial Market Outlook for 2023.

Distributed by bird story agency

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