In 2017, 20.9 million passenger journeys were made to, from and within South Africa, with aviation and tourism representing US$9.4bn in gross value added.
This is according to the latest study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) on the economic value of air transport and tourism to South Africa.
The report was released on Thursday. It identified opportunities for significant expansion over the next 20 years if key policy reforms are made.
IATA identified three areas where government action can enable aviation to continue its growth trajectory and generate even more value in South Africa.
Firstly, harmful policies on immigration must be reformed. Secondly, taxes and charges that are increasing the cost of doing business in the country must be reduced. Thirdly, a harmonised strategic approach to policy-making with transport and aviation central to economic planning must be undertaken.
"The results of the study are a reminder that robust air connectivity unlocks significant economic and social benefits. I call aviation the business of freedom. Air transport creates jobs, facilitates tourism, supports international trade and is an engine of economic activity," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's director general and CEO in a statement.
"With more than 20.9 million passengers departing and arriving from airports in South Africa every year, there is good reason to be proud of all that aviation has achieved here. However, while these are robust numbers, we are concerned by the respective Q1 2019 4.4% and 3.6% contractions in the transport and tourism sectors, which reflect uncertainties and diminished confidence."
In his view, government policy reforms to promote business, trade, investment and tourism are essential to make the most of air transport to the benefit of the South African people and economy.
Recent continental developments also hold promise for South Africa, he added.
"The implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area and the accompanying Single African Air Transport Market intended to underpin it, are initiatives that will benefit South Africa and other countries with business and trade enabling policy and legal frameworks," said De Juniac.