Air traffic in Africa 'unlikely' to return to pre-Covid-19 levels until 2023

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It is unlikely that air traffic on the continent will return to pre-Covid-19 levels until at least 2023. (Getty Images)
It is unlikely that air traffic on the continent will return to pre-Covid-19 levels until at least 2023. (Getty Images)
  • It is unlikely that air traffic on the continent will return to pre-Covid-19 levels until at least 2023.
  • This is the view of the new regional vice-president for Africa and the Middle East of the International Air Transport Association.
  • Pandemic financial relief the global airline body recorded on the continent did not include SAA's rescue process.


It is unlikely that air traffic on the continent will return to pre-Covid-19 levels until at least 2023.

This is according to Kamil Al-Awadhi, the new regional vice-president for Africa and the Middle East of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). 

Al-Awadhi says in Africa, aviation plays a central role from a socioeconomic point of view. But air traffic in the region fell drastically due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down tourism and other travel. 

At one point, air connectivity on the continent was 90% down compared to pre-Covid-19 levels, causing African airlines about $2 billion in losses in 2020. They lost about $49.63 for every passenger they flew in 2020 compared to a loss globally of $66.04 per passenger.

Furthermore, although governments realise the importance of the recovery of air travel for the continent, African airlines only received a small amount of relief funding from governments compared to the rest of the world.

Financial relief does not include SAA

IATA data show that the $2.04 billion of financial relief received by African airlines in 2020 excludes funding for SAA and money committed by the SA government for its business rescue. The $2.04 billion relief recorded by IATA relates to what other airlines across the continent received during 2020, specifically as help during the Covid-19 crisis.

Al-Awadhi believes it is unlikely that air traffic on the continent will return to pre-Covid-19 levels until at least 2023. This places some airlines at the risk of going bankrupt and makes measures to enable the industry to survive essential, in his view.

He suggests that African governments, for example, accept Covid-19 tests done up to five days before travel in order to take logistical challenges on the continent into consideration, including a lack of access to vaccines.

"Safety remains the main priority for the industry and for IATA. Testing and vaccines will play an important role going forward and governments should develop benchmarks. IATA has, for example, developed a travel pass app to assist in this regard," he said.

Safety report

IATA's recently released report on airlines' safety performance in 2020 shows six accidents occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa, two of which were fatal and both involving turboprop aircraft. There were no hull loss accidents involving jet aircraft in 2020. According to IATA, the focus in Africa continues to be on accelerating the implementation of the International Civil Aviation Organization's (ICAO) safety-related standards and recommended practices. 

IATA and the African Airlines Association joined forces with the African Civil Aviation Commission on a three-year safety project to provide technical support to the African air operators of states party to the Single Africa Air Transport Market to ensure they achieve and maintain global aviation safety standards.

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