African premium aviation traffic grows as commercial aviation on the continent expands


Africa was one of the most rapidly expanding air travel markets in the world during 2010, according to figures released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Premium aviation travel in Africa grew by 17% and economy travel grew by 21% last year.

The association reports that African travel markets achieved expansion “of note” last year as increasing trade and investment links with Asia helped to boost the Africa to Far East market. Links with Europe are much stronger but, mainly due to the weak economic situation with Europe, premium travel from Europe to Africa rose by less than 2% and economy travel by less than 5%.

IATA earlier reported that Africa is the second fastest growing region of the world in terms of commercial aviation, and is expected to see an international passenger growth rate of 7.7% over the next three years. However, international cargo demand is expected to be 5.8%, the lowest among the main world regions.

African airlines saw traffic growth rates of 12.6% for October and 16.4% for November 2010 compared to the same period in 2009. Africa’s carriers moved 11% more people in November 2010 than during the pre-recession peak in early 2008. All other regions recorded a slowing down in year-on-year growth rates from October to November, IATA said.

Africa also experienced an increase in freight transport, as all regions around the globe except Africa saw dramatic drops in year-on-year freight transport growth from October to November.

The African Airlines Association’s 2010 report projected average African traffic growth to be higher than the world average for the foreseeable future. During the first half of 2010, African airlines showed 3.4% better passenger traffic than the global average for the same period. According to Airports Council International, international traffic in Africa jumped 9.8% last year, outstripping growth of 3.9% in Europe and 5.5% for North America.

Earlier this year Lufthansa predicted that air travel in Africa will increase by an average of 6% every year until 2025, helped by an expanding raw material industry and growing middle class. Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are expanding into Africa and beginning to fly new routes to the Congo, Libya, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria and Libya.

Overall, 2010 was a year of premium and economy air travel market recovery, but the pace of recovery varied tremendously by market. Strongest growth during December was seen in Asia, the Far East and Europe to Far East, driven mainly by business travel.

Growth in markets connecting the Middle East was not largely due to traffic originating in the Middle East, but to the success of Middle Eastern airlines in increasing market shore on long-haul flights and connecting Middle Eastern hubs. Overall, traffic in the Middle East was up 23% in the premium segment and 11% in economy class. Europe to the Middle East traffic was up 11% and 12% respectively.

South America was another growth hotspot in 2010. Premium travel within South America grew 20%.

On the other hand, the weak economies of Europe meant that intra-European international markets saw growth of only 3% in both travel classes. This economic pressure also affected the important North Atlantic markets, where economy travel expanded by less than 2%. Bad weather also contributed to weak growth in this region.

The year as a whole in 2010 saw premium travel markets expand by 9.1% and economy travel was up 5.9%. The number of airline passengers in total travelling on international markets in 2010 grew by 6.2%. Given the varied performance of travel markets last year, IATA predicts a similar trend to continue through 2011.