Low vaccination rates and persistent internal barriers are a drag on the recovery of African air traffic with RPKs lagging 48% below 2019 levels. Ticket bookings for 1Q22 were only 57% of pre-crisis levels, reflecting subdued intra-African travel as many countries have maintained travel restrictions.
Data by global airline lobby IATA shows traffic to the Middle East and, North America was performing at six and two percent above pre-crisis levels respectively while domestic and Europe were also catching up at 99 and 96%.
“Africa has reestablished connectivity with the rest of the world better than within itself. Lack of liberalization is hampering recovery,” IATA Regional Vice-President for Africa and the Middle East Mr. Kamil Alawadhi said in a briefing ahead of the opening of the 78th IATA General Assembly that opens in Doha, Qatar, later today. “However, frequent changes in border restrictions due to Covid-19 and local outbreaks had introduced a “great degree of volatility,” he added.
Alawadhi said that while Africa and the Middle East region had done a lot of work to re-establish connectivity, the trends vary. While Africa is still lagging, the Middle East is on track to restore routes with the rest of the world, and connectivity within the region was above -pre-pandemic levels.
Africa needs to improve vaccination levels and liberalize the air transport market to accelerate recovery. Low vaccination rates across Africa made the continent and its people vulnerable, and the economic recovery from Covid-19 will be slower.
“While most countries in Africa and the Middle East have opened up and eased travel restrictions, we’re still seeing unnecessary travel barriers in some countries in the region. With more countries lifting travel restrictions for those vaccinated, the freedom of movement will be limited until vaccines are universally available,” Alawadhi said.
He observed that where governments have relaxed travel restrictions, passenger traffic had recovered faster. But there is a wide disparity between countries. For instance, Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone still require PCR tests regardless of vaccination status while Cameroon, Rwanda, Angola, and Liberia require two PCRs one prior to travel and another on arrival.
There is also a disparity in vaccine validity in the Middle East with some countries requiring a four-month vaccine validity, some nine and some in between.
“The number of doses also varies,” Alawadhi said noting that in view of the limited global supply of vaccines the WHO has said that booster jabs should not be a requirement for international travel.