Ethiopian Believes African Aviation Will Soar After COVID-19

The impact of COVID has stunted the growth of aviation in Africa. However, Acting Chief Commercial Officer at Africa’s largest airline, Esayas Woldemariam, believes there is still a bright future for African airlines. Speaking to Simple Flying, he told us that the best is yet to come.

Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner Addis Ababa Bole International Airport Ethiopia
Ethiopian Airlines believes the best is yet to come. Photo: Getty Images

Still a bright future

Pre-COVID, Africa was pegged to be one of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the world. As populations and economies of African nations began to swell in tandem, hopes were high for a surge in the air transport industry. Then came COVID.

As recently as last month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) was warning about the impact of COVID on African aviation.  It forecast a drop in passenger traffic of 54% compared to 2019, leading to 3.5 million job losses across the continent. All of this, IATA said, would see Africa’s GDP from aviation drop by $35 billion.

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Despite the gloomy outlook from the Association, there is a sense of optimism within the industry itself. Esayas WoldeMariam, Acting Chief Commercial Officer at Africa’s largest airline, Ethiopian, told Simple Flying that he still sees a bright future for aviation in Africa. He said,

“Post COVID, aviation in Africa has a very bright future. Pre-COVID, Africa was very unsaturated when it came to air traffic services. Africa only contributes 3% of the global passenger traffic volume. It was very unsaturated; it’s still emerging.”

Kenya airways
The market is highly unsaturated. Photo: Getty Images

Ato Esayas noted how vital trade has become for Africa. Just 10% of trade is conducted between African nations with each other, with 90% of business being done overseas. Aviation, he firmly believes, is crucial to the economic development of the countries within the continent.

“The continent has more than 1 billion people and fast growing economies. It has a young population. Aviation, travel and tourism, import and export… it fuels the economic progress for the continent. Employment and capital will sink on the soil of the continent.”

Room for more airlines

While a handful of airlines have made progress in providing locally grown connectivity for Africa, the vast majority of its links to the rest of the world is supplied by foreign entities. Esayas stated,

“When you see the total traffic to and from Africa, close to 80% is uplifted by non-African airlines. Just 20% is left to African airlines, of which about 50% is that of Ethiopian Airlines.”

Ethiopian repatriation flights
Ethiopian is the biggest African airline. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

In the year to May 2019, according to Routesonline, Ethiopian Airlines carried more than 13.3 million passengers, an increase of 11% from the year before. That’s substantially more than its nearest competitor, EgyptAir, who carried just less than nine million passengers during the same period.

Other notable international airlines include Royal Air Maroc, who shifted 7.2 million passengers, Air Algerie with 6.5 million, and Comair with 6.2 million. All Africa’s major carriers have seen marked growth year on year, but COVID is undoubtedly going to stunt this development. Nevertheless, Esayas believes growth will return swiftly.

“[The market] is so unsaturated. The post COVID future of aviation in Africa is very bright. Growth is assured, because it is so unsaturated and there are so many economic indices which are pushing it upward.”

Royal Air Maroc, oneworld alliance, april 1st
Royal Air Maroc is another significant airline, but still, 80% of all African air transport is conducted by foreign carriers. Photo: Getty Images

The best is yet to come

Despite all the challenges facing the industry, Esayas is confident that things are moving in the right direction. He strongly believes Africa will come out of COVID fighting, and shared his hopes for the future of the industry with us, saying,

“What I would like to see for Africa is for African aviation to continue growing, enabling African youths to have good employment. I would like to see Africa transacting with each other… we are such a big a market for each other, there is a lot of possibility which we have not yet explored.

“It is our prediction that aviation for Africa has a bright future and the best is yet to come.”