African aviation’s recovery will be weaker than expected, according to IATA, and reach just 30% of 2019 levels.

In absolute numbers, the region is expected to see around 45 million travelers in 2020 rising to 70 million travelers in 2021. A full return to 2019 levels (155 million travelers) is not expected until late 2023.

Though domestic travel is picking up across Africa as countries re-open their borders, international travel remains heavily constrained as major markets including the EU remain closed to citizens of African nations. Currently, residents from only two African countries–Rwanda and Tunisia–are permitted to enter EU borders. 

“The further fall in passenger traffic in 2020 is more bad news for the aviation industry in Africa,” said Muhammad Albakri, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East. “A few months ago, we thought that demand reaching 45% across the continent in 2020 compared to 2019 was as grim as it could get. But with international travel remaining virtually non-existent and a slower than expected pick up in domestic travel, we have revised our expectations downward to 30%.” 

Four airlines across Africa have ceased operations due to the impact of COVID-19 and two are in voluntary administration, with many more in serious financial distress. Without urgent financial relief more carriers and their employees are at risk, as is the wider African air transport industry, which supports 7.7 million jobs on the continent.

The governments of Rwanda, Senegal, Côte D’Ivoire and Burkina Faso have pledged a total of $311 million in direct financial support to air transport. A further $30 billion has been promised by various governments, international finance bodies and other institutions including the African Development Bank, African Export Import Bank, African Union, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). However, most of this relief is yet reach those in need.

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