Africa is a continent that has not yet realized its potential. While it might be the cradle of mankind, it is still in its economic infancy, where all its children have outgrown it. One of the least advanced aspects that promote growth and performance is extremely under-developed, the air transport system.
Africa’s air infrastructure is rife with limited connections, rundown planes, and dilapidated runways as well as bad service and a lot of cancellations. According to the World Bank, African airlines lost $800 million in 2016.
This old incompetent practice is going to be replaced by a better and more efficient system that will link Africans across Africa in a similar fashion that links Europeans across Europe and Americans across South America. The African Union (AU) is launching its Single African Air Travel Market (SAATM) this month, which is one of the AU’s 2063 main projects. This flagship plan intends to create a comprehensive air transport system that will connect all of Africa, promoting growth, jobs, and economic stability.
The initiative was the brainchild of the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision, where most of Africa’s civil aviation authorities decided to deregulate all national services and develop the infrastructure for a democratized and liberal pan-African civil aviation system.
The AU expects that this new initiative, being led by 21 countries with over 670 million citizens will lower travel and raise the frequency as is seen in Europe and South America. The countries involved include Nigeria, Benin, and Sierra Leone in the West; Rwanda, and Kenya in the East; Zimbabwe and South Africa in the south; and Egypt to the North. This new single market includes Africa’s busiest airports including Bole International Airport in Ethiopia and O. R. Tambo in Johannesburg, South Africa, and 70% of all African Carriers, including Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, and South African Express.
This move to democratize air travel, making it easier for Africans to trade and cross borders is becoming easier as countries are starting to remove travel restrictions such as visas as well as lower tourism and travel expenses for Africans within the continent.
With all these changes and initiatives, the transformation will still take time, since most of the local air fleets struggle to survive. Companies like Arik Air in Nigeria and Kenya Airways struggled to make a profit in 2017. Until more borders become open, visa restrictions removed, and frequency of flights grow, the changes will be slow since companies must be able to offer affordable prices while maintaining economic viability. Another issue to deal with is regulated control within countries. Quite a few countries are still living in political fluctuations, and countries like Somalia are under the control of the United Nations. Only last month was air control transferred back to a Somalian Air Authority.