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African airlines struggle to recover in the near term

March 8, 2022

African airlines face a difficult comeback as projections point to a slow recovery in international traffic.

Passenger traffic is projected to remain low subdued in the near term, compounded by the slow progress in vaccination against Covid-19 and the overall impact of the crisis on developing countries.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) now predicts that passenger numbers within the continent, will recover over a shallower gradient, achieving 76 percent of 2019 levels this year, 85 percent next year and 93 percent in 2024, before surging to 101 percent in 2025, a year later than the global industry average.

IATA is now asking governments to lift all barriers to travel, including quarantine and testing for passengers that are fully vaccinated and to replace PCR tests with pre-departure antigen testing for non-vaccinated travellers to ease movement.

The industry lobby also wants all travel bans removed and faster easing of movement restrictions given the general acceptance that travellers do not pose a greater risk for Covid-19 spread than already exists in the general population.

“The biggest and most immediate drivers of passenger numbers are the restrictions that governments place on travel. Fortunately, more governments have understood that travel restrictions have little to no long-term impact on the spread of a virus. And the economic and social hardship caused for very limited benefit is simply no longer acceptable in a growing number of markets. As a result, the progressive removal of restrictions is giving a much-needed boost to the prospects for travel,” said Mr Walsh.

In the latest passenger forecast, the industry lobby projects that overall passenger numbers will reach four billion in 2024 or 103 percent of the 2019 figures.

“The trajectory for the recovery in passenger numbers from Covid-19 was not changed by the Omicron variant. People want to travel. And when travel restrictions are lifted, they return to the skies. There is still a long way to go to reach a normal state of affairs, but the forecast for the evolution in passenger numbers gives good reason to be optimistic,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director-general.

Optimistic future

Overall, in 2021 the industry performed at just 47 percent of 2019 levels as governments imposed punitive entry requirements and quarantines. The numbers are expected to improve to 83 percent this year, to reach 94 percent next year before surpassing 2019 levels in 2024 and hitting 111 percent in 2025.

“This is a slightly more optimistic near-term international recovery scenario compared to November 2021, based on the progressive relaxation or elimination of travel restrictions in many markets. This has seen improvements in the major North Atlantic and intra-European markets, strengthening the baseline for recovery. Asia-Pacific is expected to continue to lag the recovery with the region’s largest market, China, not showing any signs of relaxing its severe border measures in the near future,” IATA says.

The domestic passenger segment was the backbone for recovery last year, achieving 61 percent of 2019 levels.

The lobby says the Russia-Ukraine conflict is unlikely to have any bearing on the long-term growth of air transport.

theeastafrican