The African Airlines Association (AFRAA) released its 2020 Air Transport Report. The report gives an in-depth analysis of Africa’s air transport industry performance for 2020 covering: financial performance, passenger and cargo traffic evolution, airport ranking, intra-Africa connectivity, and openness.

Africa airlines’ operations were severely impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. If the first cases on the continent appeared at the end of February in the Northern region, the restrictive measures started to be applied in March. The impact was drastic on the traffic.

Financial performance

The COVID-19 had a devastating impact on airlines’ finance around the world. For African airlines, whose financial situation was already precarious, the impact was even greater. For the year 2020, the estimated Passenger Revenue loss for Africa airlines 2020 is $ 10.21 billion.

Passenger Traffic Evolution

The number of scheduled Passengers carried by African airlines dropped from 95 million in 2019 to 34.7 million in 2020, representing a year-on-year decline of 63.7%. The reduction in traffic continued until June, before reversing with the gradual opening of borders.

Northern Africa was the leading region in terms of passenger volumes, representing 36.6% of the total continental traffic. This was followed by Eastern Africa with a share of 22.2%.

In Southern Africa, the traffic drop related to Covid reached 63.6% compared to 2019. In this region representing 21% of the continental traffic, the domestic market is clearly dominant: from 66% before the Covid, the part of domestic traffic increased up to 77% in the last quarter of 2020. On the other end, intra-African traffic reduced, as well as traffic outside the continent.

Central and Western African regions both represented 19.7% of the traffic in Africa. Domestic traffic represented around 40% in 2019, Intra-African following with 32%. In 2020, with the Covid situation, the share of domestic sales increased, particularly in the second quarter with 68% with the closing of the borders.  The share of Europe, the principal destination outside Africa, reduced from 12% in 2019 to 10% in 2020. The traffic to Asia also declined from 5.8% to 2.4%. 

Airport Ranking

Johannesburg and Cairo were the busiest airports in Africa in 2020. The only West & Central African airport in the top 10 rankings in Lagos. In terms of cargo volumes, Nairobi Jomo Kenya airport was top, handling more than 330 thousand tons of freight during the year 2020. Cairo was second with 280 thousand tons.

In terms of airport charges, Lusaka had the highest level of airport charges while Mahe Island had the lowest. Some of the busiest airports in Africa like Johannesburg, Addis, Algiers are among the least expensive. This indicates that lowering airport charges can have a positive effect on traffic.

Passenger Traffic Distribution

African airlines globally carried more domestic traffic in 2020, around 43% of the total traffic compared to 2019. The leading carriers in terms of Domestic traffic are airlines like Safair, Ethiopian Airlines, Mango airlines, and Air Algerie.

Those five airlines carried 4.8 million passengers on domestic routes during the year. traffic represented 57%, breaking down into 19% of Intra-African and 38% of intercontinental passengers.

At the continental level, Europe is the first destination of African airlines, representing 21% and even exceeding Intra African traffic (19%), domestic excluded. Traffic to the Middle East tended to increase, while traffic to Asia reduced due to Covid.

Intra Africa and openness

Among the 54 countries in the African continent, 13 have direct flights to more than 20 African countries. Ethiopia and Kenya lead with 30 direct flights and more to other countries within Africa. However, intra-African remains low. African airlines should take the opportunity to develop their Intra-African Network, especially in this period where the EU has limited travel to Europe.

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