As the continent’s economy is growing so too is the aviation industry and the skies are the limit for the wealth of opportunity lying along its runways.
In the past 20 years, aviation has gone through something of a transformation, but in the next couple of decades it could look even more different.
The days of used jets from Europe being dumped in Africa are long gone with the continent now boasting a small number of sophisticated airlines operating some of the most technologically-advanced aircraft on the market today.
Boeing’s 20-year market forecast predicts that passenger traffic in Africa will grow at an annual rate of about 5.6 percent – outpacing the world average of just five percent.
This increased passenger traffic will result in a rise in the number of aircraft needed to accommodate them and Boeing predicts in that time period about 900 new airplanes valued at US$120billion will be required.
Likewise, high performance business jet manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft has seen demand for its business aircraft rise astronomically. Between 2007 and 2011 it delivered 232 business aircraft in Africa representing an increase of 97 per cent on the 118 deliveries made to the continent between 2002 and 2006.
The big issue
However, despite the industry’s high-flying potential, there are still many issues to be addressed if it is to properly take advantage of both internal and foreign investment.
John Grant, Vice-President of OAG Aviation, the global leader in aviation intelligence, said: “Infrastructure and regulatory issues are two of the biggest issues and there is still a degree of protectionism in some African countries which frustrates attempts by some of the more entrepreneurial carriers to seize the advantage.
“With infrastructure often is there is lots of discussion and goodwill towards development but often things don’t actually happen. It is also about delivery on time and to an agreed specification.”
OAG’s Commercial Director Mark Clarkson cited red tape as another issue hindering the industry’s growth and expansion.
He said; “Nigeria is one country that is trying to do a lot in terms of its infrastructure, but it has its challenges, such as political ones, and should really have a much larger share of the regional market. It also faces specification problems in terms of getting the appropriate certification to fly into the US.”
One of the overriding issues for the aircraft manufacturers is the lack of a single continent-wide aviation authority. Hawker Beechcraft’s Vice-President EMEA Sales, Scott Plumb, said: “The fact that there is no single continent-wide aviation authority means that regulations vary from country to country, which doesn’t help in flight operations.”
Van Rex Gallard, Boeing Commerical Airplanes Vice President for Africa, Latin America and Caribbean, believes African airlines have been doing a lot to become more competitive in the aviation industry.
He said: “African airlines need to continue to update their fleets to compete against carriers from Europe and the Middle East. Aviation should be seen as an enabler of economic development. It is because of this that investments should be made to improve infrastructure to accommodate and encourage growth in aviation.”
For general aviation companies such as the ExecuJet Aviation Group, which runs its African operations from South Africa, the developing economy has seen it receive more interest from resource companies particularly from oil and gas businesses and some mining firms.
Ettore Poggi, Managing Director Africa for ExecuJet, said: “These companies are looking for solutions to get them to those places in the continent which are inaccessible by commercial airlines hence we are getting a lot of inquiries which are turning out to be positive for us.”
The ExecuJet Aviation Group operates 55 jet aircraft in Africa and offers clients a diverse range of services including pre-owned and new aircraft sales, charter and maintenance services.
According to Poggi infrastructure is undoubtedly the major hurdle the aviation industry has to face and overcome if it is to compete along the same lines as its European counterparts.
“Infrastructure problems come in various forms. Airport maintenance is one area and navigation equipment is another. In central Africa there is radio silence because in some parts there are no radar systems and most of the time pilots are relying on other pilots in the air to understand where they are,” he said.
Making it happen
Poggi also highlighted lack of fuel supply and service delivery which can result in aircraft being parked for weeks on end because fuel or a part is difficult to get to them.
He said: “The main issue really is political because you need government backing resources in terms of funding and political will to make changes happen. In certain places, like Nigeria, it is happening, but there is still a long, long way to go.”
However, most experts within the industry agree that African aviation will look very different in the next 10 to 20 years. Low cost airline Fastjet has already launched services in Tanzania and it is likely more will follow suit.
Plumb said: “We think there is huge potential in Africa and the aviation sector could develop very quickly over the next two decades.
“That is why it is vital that there is a strategy behind the growth and that the sector doesn’t simply expand in a piecemeal fashion.”
While aviation may be on a long-haul to resolve some of its issues, there is no doubt the outlook for the industry is highly favourable.