By Boni Dibate
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected about 213 countries and about 4.8 million individuals globally. Lockdown restrictions have also had a huge impact on global economies and the industries like aviation that support them. As a result, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF), global output is projected to fall by 4.9% in 2020. These are challenging times for all – particularly the Africa region.
The outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has challenged global health, wealth and mobility, and resulted in the worst financial decline since the 1930s depression. Economic activity is not likely to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2025, and many industries and organisations are experiencing financial hardship, leading to rising unemployment globally, especially throughout Africa.
From an aviation perspective, the pandemic presented a complex scenario for the industry. Since the beginning of 2020, demand for domestic and international travel has significantly reduced, with traffic movements decreasing by80%, and air travel shifting away from passenger to predominantly cargo flights.
The decline of aircraft movements has meant a decline in revenues, and Africa is experiencing a similar economic impact as the rest of the globe. Best case scenarios suggest that 60% of pre-COVID traffic volumes will not return for at least two years, and international volumes are particularly uncertain as travel restrictions and passenger wariness prevail. Business travel is also likely to remain severely impacted as we get used to holding meetings and events digitally.
From an ATM perspective, the challenging situation presented by reduced revenue is compounded by the need to maintain an operational service. While flights have reduced to an all-time low, ANSPs are still charged with the essential task of ensuring the safe, orderly flow of air traffic no matter how low the levels. This is to enable the safe transport of essential goods and services. The pain is therefore acute throughout the aviation value-chain and the future -to a large part -remains uncertain.
Despite these challenging times, ANSPs have taken a variety of steps to ensure they can continue to deliver seamless service throughout the pandemic. CANSO members such as ASECNA, ATNS, CAA Uganda and KCAA have led the way in sharing best practice across the region and bringing the ATM community together to identify opportunities to build resilience and an efficient network.
This includes implementing employee protection and business continuity initiatives, such as new hygiene and distancing measures, dynamic rostering and remote working, remote research and development, and remote and restorative maintenance.
CANSO members have also re-doubled efforts to improve performance in key areas, and also continues to partner with industry players like ICAO, IATA, AFCAC in the development of an integrated strategy for aviation in Africa.
The situation for aviation is likely to continue changing. In the medium- to long-term, we will likely still see lower volumes of tourism and business travel, and therefore reduced revenue streams. Operations will also need to shift to a changing marketplace and the full extent of this is not yet known.
In the long-term, however, the pandemic will likely also help to catalyse innovation and investment in new technologies. Some analysts are forecasting that this pandemic might direct investment in segments like robotic and drone technology, and therefore transform industries like aviation seeking to find new ways to be cost-efficient and agile.
It will be a very different future for Africa and the vital transport connections that the region provides. While we do not yet know how regional and global traffic patterns might shift further, it is emerging that aviation will grow once again, even if it is slow and steady. And for this, CANSO will be prepared.
We will continue to be the global voice of ATM and a strong aviation partner. We are committed to continuing the transformation of ATM in this diverse and exciting region, and to meeting the international targets and goals of the aviation community. While aviation organisations have differing challenges to overcome, I am confident that together we will build a strong future for the industry and safe, seamless skies in Africa.