In some instances, African travellers are forced to catch connecting flights outside the continent in order to get to another African destination. / Photo: AP

By Abdulwasiu Hassan

Picture this: you are travelling from French capital Paris to Nigeria's capital Abuja, but your commercial flight drops you in Chad's capital N'Djamena, some 1,100 kilometres from your destination.

Some Nigerian nationals recently making such a trip on Air France protested being left in Chad in circumstances they could not immediately understand.

Consequently, the Nigerians sought the intervention of Nigeria's Aviation Minister Festus Keyamo.

"I have immediately directed the consumer protection department of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority to swing into action and engage Air France… I urge Air France to issue a statement on the fate of those Nigerians," Keyamo said on X, formerly Twitter.

Poor weather

Air France thereafter sent a statement saying the Abuja-bound passengers were left in Chad because the flight could not proceed to Nigeria due to poor weather conditions. The airline however promised to transport the Nigerians to Abuja in small groups.

Though the air distance from N'Djamena to Abuja appears relatively short, the cost of air transport is quite expensive.

Aviation sector experts say the high air fees are due to unavailability of frequent direct flights between African cities.

For example, the distance between Kenya's capital Nairobi and UAE's Dubai is almost similar to the distance between Nairobi and Nigeria's Lagos, but one would pay about $900 for a round trip to Lagos, while to Dubai, it would cost $600.

In some instances, African travellers are forced to catch connecting flights outside the continent in order to get to another African destination.

Colonial impact

The detour occasioned by lack of direct flights makes air travel within Africa quite expensive.

Aviation sector analysts say the lack of direct flights connecting African cities shows how colonialism impacted the aviation infrastructure and planning.

The infrastructure built during colonial era prioritised air connectivity to colonial capitals at the expense of intra-African trade.

"Let us take Nigeria for instance, the (air) connectivity built back in the day was between Abuja and London, while in Senegal, it was between Dakar and Paris," Captain Ado Sanusi, the chief executive officer of Nigeria's Aerocontractors, tells TRT Afrika.

Ethiopian Airlines operates a large number of flights in Africa. / Photo: TRT Afrika


But even with the challenges of intra-continental travel, the aviation industry in Africa is projected to grow in the coming years.

"Africa witnessed a 6% increase in available seats, rising from 15.1 million in May 2023 to 15.9 million in May 2024, attributed to the introduction of new routes and increased flight frequencies," the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) says in a recent report.

The report added that the aviation sector's revenue registered a corresponding growth over that period.

AFRAA projects that by the end of 2024, air passenger traffic on the continent would increase by 15%, compared with 2023.

'Tremendous potential'

RwandAir's Chief Executive Officer Yvonne Makolo, who serves as the chairperson of the board of governors of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), is equally optimistic about the sector's performance in the near future.

"Africa is home to over a billion people. It is a vast continent, accounting for a fifth of the world's population, and just two percent of global air traffic," she recently told participants at IATA's Annual General Meeting in Dubai.

"There is (however) a tremendous potential for air transport to contribute to the continent's economic and social development."

She further said Focus Africa, an initiative of the world association of airlines, has spotlighted major issues the industry faces on the continent.

Spare part centre

The highlighted issues include "the need for capital to develop infrastructure, the need to implement regulations that would improve safety and the potential for the Single African Air Transport Market to unleash connectivity."

A 2023 announcement by aircraft manufacturer Boeing that it would open an aircraft spare part centre in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa has spurred hope for stakeholders in the African aviation sector.

"(If implemented), the move would be good for the aviation industry on the continent," Nigeria's Sanusi said, urging aircraft manufacturers to also set up assembly centres in Africa.

Aviation experts say the development of manufacturing plants in Africa would help reduce flight disruptions often caused by insufficient or grounded aircraft.

Unified air transport market

The African Union (AU) adopted the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), an initiative that aims to create a single unified air transport market in Africa to advance the liberalisation of civil aviation in Africa, and act as an impetus to the continent's economic integration agenda by 2063.

"I hope African countries would fully embrace this (AU initiative) and implement it to ensure that the connectivity in African countries is maximised," Sanusi said.

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TRT Afrika