During a briefing on the first day of this year’s Aviation Africa Summit taking place in Abuja, Nigeria, Randy Heisey, managing director commercial marketing for Boeing Middle East and Africa, told FINN that “Africa is turning a corner and seeing a year of transition,” this is as the manufacturer sees a return to the trend of growth.
Fast-growing intra-regional and domestic networks will drive African traffic is forecast at 7.4%, with the continent’s commercial jet fleet more than doubling over the next 20 years to 1,025 new aircraft.
“We’re currently seeing a restoration of the long-haul passenger market,” said Heisey. “Also, we are seeing airlines move away from managing their fleets to renewing and growing them, while globally we’re seeing airlines returning toward profitability.”
With Africa’s overall air traffic growth forecast above the global average growth of 6.1%, Heisey credited this growth to natural resources performing well in the global marketplace and tourism being one of the first economic activities to return following the pandemic. He also stated that despite a rise in inflation African air traffic is growing unabated by inflationary pressures and expected to return to 2019 levels by 2024.
Current load factors across the sector are currently at 70%, which is similar to pre-pandemic levels, with network carriers back at 100% of 2019 levels and low-cost carriers (LCCs) not quite there yet.
“African carriers are well-positioned to support intra-regional traffic growth and capture market share by offering services that efficiently connect passengers and enable commerce within the continent,” said Heisey.
Boeing forecasts an increase in the average aircraft size and seats per aircraft for the African fleet, with mid-size single aisle models such as the Boeing 737 MAX increasingly being deployed by airlines on the continent. Single aisle jets are expected to account for more than 70% of commercial deliveries with 730 new aircraft primarily supporting domestic and intra-regional demand through 2042. African carriers are estimated to need 275 new widebodies, including passenger and cargo models, to support long-haul routes and air freight growth.
In terms of who is travelling and where they’re travelling, leisure traffic continues to lead in Africa with visiting friends and relatives (VFR) traffic also showing growth. While growth is slower business traffic is also growing and represent an important market for African carriers as they will typically pay higher fares, said Heisey.
With Boeing’s figures showing that approximately 190 aircraft are ready for near term replacement across the continent, fleet renewals will provide significant cost savings and environmental benefits with more fuel-efficient aircraft expected to replace nearly one in five older models. However, Africa has been slower than much of the rest of the world with ¾ of Africa’s new mainline passenger aircraft not yet secured.
Heisey concluded that growth in Africa’s air traffic will see demand for aviation personnel rise to an estimated 69,000 new professionals, including 21,000 pilots, 26,000 cabin crew members and 22,000 technicians. “We are seeing a talent drain where other regions are suffering shortages and taking resources away from Africa due to wage competition,” he said, underlining the ongoing challenge to retain and recruit a skilled workforce for Africa’s aviation sector.