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ACI World director general, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, considers the growth potential of Africa.

As many of you will know, ACI World had the pleasure of partnering with ACI Africa for the ACI Africa/World Annual General Assembly, Conference and Exhibition last October. The successful event, which attracted over 500 delegates, took place in Marrakesh, Morocco, and was generously hosted by Morocco’s Office National Des Aéroports (ONDA).

ACI World will also have the pleasure of returning to the region at the end of February for the 69th ACI Africa Board and Committee Meetings, Regional Conference and Exhibition. Such in-person meetings are vital to the strengthening of relationships and the exchange of knowledge needed to build a sustainable aviation ecosystem.

To many, the African continent represents huge potential for the growth of aviation. With a population of nearly 1.4 billion people, Africa makes up about 17% of the world’s population. Indeed, the United Nations states that Africa is the fastest-growing continent and will host more than half of global population growth between now and 2050.

Due to Africa’s challenges such as weak infrastructure, poor connectivity, lack of liberalisation, high taxes and many ‘aero-political’ restrictions among others, ACI data shows that the region accounted for only 2.5% of the world’s passengers in 2021.

Nevertheless, in 2018, air transport supported 7.7 million jobs and $63 billion in African economic activity, representing 2.2% of all employment and 2.7% of all GDP in African countries.

These benefits have the potential to return and flourish under the right conditions.

According to the latest ACI World quarterly traffic update, passenger traffic in Africa has shown recovery from 114.8 million (50.1% of 2019 level) to 178.6 million in 2022 (77.9% of 2019 level). However, with continued reliance on international travel, Africa continues to be vulnerable to external shocks. That said, a recovery is still expected by 2024 for the continent.

Looking to the future, ACI World’s just released World Airport Traffic Forecasts 2022–2041 (WATF) states that Africa’s passenger traffic, compared to its 2022 volume, is set to almost triple by 2041 based on a compound annual growth rate of 5.7%. To capitalise, and perhaps exceed this growth, Africa needs a strong, efficient yet competitive air transport sector, with resistant business models leading the way.

Given Africa’s environment, the ACI Policy Brief on airport networks shows that the Airport Network model is the coping mechanism of choice with practically all (99%) African airports belonging to a network where costs and revenue are pooled. In contrast, 55% of airports worldwide, serving 42% of traffic, belong to a network structure.

The key advantage for smaller airports within an airport network is that they have access to resources that they would not have otherwise if they were operated and managed separately as individual entities.

Airports in a network benefit from economies of scope and scale that generate efficiencies in terms of costs and charges. The efficiency gains in operating costs and capital costs more than offset cross-subsidies and generate value for airlines and passengers using airport networks. And in addition to this, the network approach facilitates the sharing of best practices, such as in customer experience.

Of course, the emergence of a more open and less fragmented ‘African sky’ will be essential to supporting the development of air transport on the continent. The liberalisation and competition across all sectors of air transport is vital to enabling access to new markets within and outside the vast region.

The growing commitment to a common aviation market has the potential to alleviate existing regulatory constraints, enhance consumer choice, enhance competition across the air transport value chain and augment connectivity on the continent.

Aviation in Africa is also challenged by excessive regulation and taxes. From an end-user perspective, there is often little difference between charges, taxes and government fees as they are seen as additional charges to be paid when purchasing a ticket.

However, there is a significant difference in the way these levies are applied to the development of air transport and airport infrastructure in particular.

It is the responsibility of governments and industry to not only invest in airports and travel, but in tourism, which all play a vital role in delivering socio-economic benefits to African economies at large. All the above-mentioned elements are needed to develop international and domestic air service demand on the continent – and always for the benefit of travellers and communities.

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