African air travel demand sees strong growth, on track to reach pre-covid levels

African air travel demand sees strong growth, on track to reach pre-covid levels

African air travel has made a robust recovery, with the traffic in March having reached 94.8% of pre-pandemic levels of 2019, as more international routes and tourism reopened, the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) has said in a new report.

Africa’s airlines have almost returned to pre-pandemic traffic levels, according to the report, noting that domestic flights accounted for 37% of the March traffic, with intra-Africa flights at 31% and intercontinental travel at 32%. Data also shows that the total number of intercontinental routes operated by African airlines have exceeded pre-Covid levels since October 2022. Eight key airports, including Cairo, Johannesburg, and Nairobi, have achieved or exceeded pre-pandemic levels for intra-Africa travel. After losing $3.5 billion in revenue in 2022 and $8.6 billion in 2021, African airlines are now on course to narrow their revenue gap in 2023, the AFRAA said.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit African airlines hard as travel restrictions led to the grounding of aircraft. Some airlines, such as Air Namibia and Air Mauritius completely folded while others such as South African Airways and Kenya Airways needed big bailout funding from the state to keep flying. Others, like Ethiopian airlines converted their passenger jets into freighters to compensate for reduced passenger traffic.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said it expects the rest of 2023 will bring good tidings for Africa’s aviation industry, albeit low profit margins. Carriers in Africa are expected to narrow losses to $213 million this year, from a projected loss of $638 million in 2022. But “Africa is particularly exposed to macro-economic headwinds which have increased the vulnerability of several economies and rendered connectivity more complex,” IATA says.

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