Africa’s Airlines See Recovery to Traffic Levels in 2019

An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8 is loaded at the terminal.
Alan Wilson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A report released this week shows Africa’s airlines had almost returned their traffic numbers to pre-pandemic levels in March.

‘Better Skies for Africa’


The report, issued by the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) this week, shows the traffic carried in March by the continent’s airlines had achieved almost 95% of that carried in 2019.

For total passengers carried, the association estimates airlines will end the year about 10 million short of the full-year 2019 passenger figures. The total is estimated at 85 million.

The split in markets for the March figures shows domestic traffic to be leading the share at 37% of the total. This is followed by intercontinental traffic at 32% and passenger traffic between African states at 31%.

A South African Airways Airbus on the runway.
Anna Zvereva, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

African airlines have also maintained an achievement higher than pre-pandemic levels. The total number of intercontinental routes operated has been higher than 2019 levels since October 2022.

African airlines are also either achieving or exceeding pre-pandemic levels on intra-Africa travel from eight key airports: Johannesburg, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Lusaka, Cairo, Casablanca, Abidjan and Lome.

The Association members represent airlines in member states of the African Union (AU). Its membership reflects over 85% of total international traffic carried by African airlines. Its motto is “Better Skies for Africa.”

The AFRAA states that Africa has a significant landmass and a large percentage of the world population but only accounts for 2% of global trade.

It, therefore, promotes the continent as “an excellent opportunity to develop air transport.” Africa only accounts for 3% of the world market share of air transport.

It is also holding its 11th Aviation Stakeholders Convention with a drive to “take action to change this narrative.” The convention is being hosted by Ethiopian Airlines – Africa’s largest airline by most key factors.

Mr Abdérahmane Berthé, the AFRAA General Secretary, said, “AFRAA and Ethiopian Airlines are excited to stage this Convention… to meet, deliberate on strategies to enhance efficiencies, create synergies, develop intra-Africa connectivity, ensure business continuity that will redefine the narrative of Africa air transport industry.

The event will welcome over 400 delegates from Africa and worldwide to hold dialogue and exchange knowledge and experiences for the development of Africa’s air transport ecosystem.

Mr Mesfin Bekele, Group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines said, “The forum will showcase the ‘Africa Rising’ mantra manifested in the growing opportunities for all stakeholders in the continent’s aviation industry.

Photo credit: AFRAA

Improving the Finances


With the increase in traffic, the AFRAA has advised 2023 is seeing a “narrowing” of the revenue gaps of airlines compared to the previous year.

For the first quarter of 2023, Africa’s airlines were below the revenue levels seen in the same period in 2019 by 0.3 billion USD. The association expects this to reduce further to 0.2 billion USD in the second quarter.

Estimates for full-year revenue gaps are not yet available however 2023 is expected to perform better than the previous year which saw a 3.5 billion USD loss for all African airlines.

To support continued recovery and air transport growth, it is providing advocacy on airline-blocked funds.

Nigeria currently has 743 million USD of airline-blocked funds, according to the AFRAA, and is currently ranked the second highest in the world for airline-blocked funds, after Venezuela.

An Air Peace aircraft on the tarmac at night.
Photo credit: Air Peace

The AFRAA states its survey indicated three of its member airlines have approximately 44.2 million USD blocked in Nigeria. These member airlines also have a reported total of 88.9 million USD blocked in 12 African countries at the end of 2022.

Non-African airlines are also affected. Emirates publically withdrew from Nigeria last year due to this issue citing the requirement to mitigate losses in revenue.

Berthé said, “It is unacceptable for some States to hold on to airline-generated revenues that is badly needed to cover operating costs and yet expect operations to continue undisrupted. The longer these funds are held, the bigger the financial burden these States impose on airlines supporting air connectivity and economic activities in these countries.

The AFRAA states countries with blocked funds, at the end of last year, including Algeria, Libya, Cameroon, The Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea Conakry, Burundi, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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