• Piet van Niekerk

Liberating African Skies key to Continent’s Development

A study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecast that if just 12 of Africa’s economies opened their skies to each another, fares would drop by up to 35% and an extra 5 million African’s could afford to fly. An additional 155,000 new jobs would be created and $1.3 billion added to the GDP.

These are impressive numbers for an industry that currently supports around 7 million jobs and more than $80 billion in GDP across the continent.

The matter of “liberating” African skies is part of a in depth article recently published on behalf of the World Economic Forum by Raphael Kuuchi, Vice-President for Africa, IATA.

Kuutchi likens flying to certain African destinations like flying from London to Athen – via Moscow! He says flying from London to Athens can not be considered a massive undertaking. It’s a given that the journey will be direct, take three-and-a-half hours, and Europeans will not require a visa. “The biggest decision is likely to be which meal to select in-flight.”

Should you try to fly a similar distance in Africa, the reality is not that simple. Convoluted flight itineraries are the norm. “Let’s take the example of a trip from Algeria to Cameroon, as the crow flies, a journey the same length as London-Athens. There is no direct flight. The fastest route, via Istanbul, takes 24 hours and involves three separate takeoffs and landings. The less time-economical route can take up to 30 hours – half the time it took the Virgin Atlantic Global flyer to circumnavigate the globe. Adding insult to injury, the flight from Algeria to Cameroon costs 80% more than London-Athens. This is truly a disturbing paradox.”

According to Kuutchi the problems caused by an unconnected Africa are not limited to inconvenient travel schedules. The problem is far bigger and it works to the detriment of economies of the continent’s 54 nations, in fact to the region as a whole. “Trade and tourism is hindered and investment opportunities lost. And it’s not just about economics. Aviation connects people. Africa would be a less fragmented continent with greater air connectivity.”

He says the benefits of connectivity cannot be disputed. When Europe “liberated” it skies it was not only a coup for the industry but also passengers. “In the short space of eight years (1992-2000), the 100 year-old industry witnessed a surge in activity. The number of direct flight between European countries increased by nearly 75%. Passengers enjoyed 88% more flight options and double the number of seats. Suddenly travelling by air became accessible to all, with a 15% drop in ticket prices.”

The argument for connectivity is not limited to developed nations. Chile saw its air traffic increase… significantly higher than regional and world averages following liberalization of its airways in 1979. In Costa Rica liberalization boosted tourist arrivals by 400% and the number of airlines serving the country increase by 300% over a 20-year period.

Kuutchi emphasises that African countries that have tested liberal skies have alreade seen success. Wen South Africa opened its market to Kenyan airlines the number of passengers jumped by 70%. And when they granted air traffic rights to Zambian airlines fares reduced by 40% and passenger numbers increased by the same percentage.

But he warns that most African countries are dragging their feet – or wings, so to speak. “Protectionist policies favouring national airlines remain abundant. This is unhelpful. The continent cannot take off economically while its runway is incomplete. Governments in Africa need to treat aviation as a strategic asset and not as an instrument of foreign policy. Africa’s past has long been defined by national insularity; its future lies in liberalization. Where better to begin than its skies?”

Piet van Niekerk is content director at Content Cows UK, a herd of creative storytellers and content creators. Go to to learn more or follow them on Twitter at @content_cows.


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