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A Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamlliner resting under the JFK Airport air traffic control tower for the first time. (Photo: Tom Pallini)

African Airlines Are Ailing As Industry Braces for Restart

International Air Transport Association (IATA) has already outlined a roadmap of a proposed temporary layered approach that will help to jump-start air travel around the world. The guidelines are geared at building confidence with the aviation stakeholders to enable reopening of borders and the safe return of passenger flights amid the pandemic.

There are, however, growing concerns that some African airlines may never be able to set to the skies again, especially those that were already in financial difficulty even before the coronavirus pandemic took a hit at the industry.

The industry in Africa is poised to lose up to $6 billion in revenues with about 51-76 percent of diminished passenger traffic between February and the rest of the year. More airlines in the continent remain grounded even as there is continued deliberations on the stimulus amount of strategies to be used to support the sector.

“We have not agreed on what those minimums are, but we know countries like India have already implemented their standardized process so we want to piggyback on that,” said Kenya Airways CEO Allan Kilavuka during a recent IATA board of governors meeting.

Most governments in the continent are unable to bail the industry as they are undergoing a dramatic economic downturn brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenya Airways has seen its Kshs 7 billion (USD $65,426,317) emergency bailout fund snubbed by the national government while its South African counterpart South African Airways has been in a political grandstanding while seeking more funds to remain airborne.

Only Ethiopian Airlines has been able to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, shifting its focus from passenger flights to its now booming cargo business, but has still ended up losing close to $1 billion in ticket sales. The airline dismissed seeking a state bailout package as its immediate recovery procedure.

Moreover, Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam is still optimistic about post-pandemic recovery even as the continent’s largest carrier attempts to diversify.

“We see some kind of maybe 50 percent recovery in the summer because it is summer peak and people are sick and tired of the lockdown and as you can see in Europe and America governments are opening, even people are also going out because people were not meant to be locked down,” GebreMariam said.

The industry’s experts are predicting three to four years for aviation full recovery with the industry’s governing body calling for stepped-up government relief measures in the region to kick-start the industry.

“As the governments struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic catastrophe has unfolded. Re-starting aviation and opening borders will be critical to the eventual economic recovery,” Muhammad Al Bakri, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and Middle East, said.

Victor Shalton
Victor Shalton
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