Driving Efficiency At African Airports

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Recent air travel figures released by the International Air Transport Association show that global passenger traffic has recovered to 99% of pre COVID-19 figures. For Africa, the domestic traffic has recovered fully and is actually growing while the international traffic is expected to recover fully in 2024.

Industry projections by Boeing point to the African air transport industry growing at over 7% between 2023 and 2042 and Africa’s air traffic doubling by 2040. The increasing opening of the African market through the adoption of the initiatives such as the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is further expected to enable more passenger and cargo traffic to many African airports.

It is therefore expected that the traffic growth will lead to more passengers using airport infrastructure across Africa and put additional pressure on the existing facilities which in many cases are old and dilapidated. Dr. O.B Aliu, former ICAO President and current founder at IPADIS noted that “rapidly-expanding air traffic and enhanced air connectivity can only be sustained with continued investment and development for aviation infrastructure, capacity and technology, supported by a regulatory framework which is ICAO compliant and therefore harmonized with other States and Regions.”


Moving Forward

The African air transport industry has had a challenge of poor and inadequate airport infrastructure over the years and many stakeholders have noted that the industry’s growth has been stifled over the years by weak airport infrastructure. However, in recent past many African countries have stepped up to the challenge and are building new or refurbishing existing terminal and airports. In particular 2023 witnessed the opening of new airport facilities in Sierra Leone (the first since independence in 1960), Zimbabwe and Angola. Before these airport projects had been concluded in Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, and Mozambique amongst others. The Entebbe Airport in Uganda is undergoing construction while Rwanda’s 2 billion US Dollar new airport at Bugesera is planned to come on stream in 2026 with capacity to handle over 14 million passengers and 150,000 tons of cargo annually. These developments reflect the continent’s aspirations to reposition its airport infrastructure.

Some of the continent’s airports feature state of art infrastructure, in Marrakech, Cairo, Addis Ababa and Johannesburg, and others have seen huge improvements like DIASS in Dakar and Gnassingbe Eyadema in Togo nevertheless many countries in the continent requires more investment in airport infrastructure.  The continent needs a critical mass of airports to facilitate connectivity and the fifth freedom rights within the continent. Airport facilities are also a necessity to boost connectivity within the countries in the continent.


More Investment

In spite of the activities going on across Africa, it is generally agreed that the continent requires more investments in airport infrastructure for the same reason noted earlier. A 2019 report by Airport World quotes the African Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM) as estimating “that the continent needs to raise around $22 billon across 60 identified projects to make Africa’s airport infrastructure fit for modern aviation.” What is often not clear is the modalities for funding the airport. The Report averred further that “private sector can provide an attractive alternative for funding and managing airport infrastructure on the continent and the potential is enormous.”, but noted that “Currently, only 11% of African airports by traffic volume involve private investors, compared to Europe where it has contributed 75%, and globally 43%.” It is a no brainer that the continent will need to harvest the private sector to fund investments in the airport infrastructure as most governments do not have the capacity to finance same in the midst of competing social needs. States that have funded their airport infrastructure through Chinese loans are finding out that loan repayments are a drain on their scarce resources.

Private management of airports across the continent has also proven to make the airports better. One of such is the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal 2 in Lagos is managed by Bi-Courtney Aviation Service on a Build. Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis. Airports in Senegal and Niger also being managed privately have witnessed improvement in service delivery though high charges remain a thorny issue. But in countries like Nigeria concessioning of airports has been a raging political issues due to fear of job losses and certain security dimensions. There is no doubt that governments alone cannot adequately fund airports in Africa, African governments must take the decision to involve more private sector participation in their airport infrastructure development, whether they are based in the continent or outside of the continent.


Efficiency Gains VS Functionality

Irrespective of the size of the airport in Africa, passengers need functional facilities and if they come with aesthetics the better. The Director General of ACI World Luis Felipe de Oliveira said: “The success of an airport depends on the satisfaction of its customers. From check-in to boarding, and everything in between, airports are focused on creating positive, memorable, and meaningful experiences for their passengers as their needs continue to evolve. However, it takes a village—an entire airport community—to excel in an increasingly competitive market as passenger traffic doubles in the next two decades. Strong leadership centered on fostering a customer-centric culture across the airport community is key to creating valuable human experiences for its customers, employees, and stakeholders.”

While the bargain is between aesthetics and functionality, passengers and airlines look forward to having basic facilities, like conveyor belts, efficient check in and boarding technologies, amongst others to reduce stress and time spent at baggage collection. As the President of the Airports Council International, Mr. Emanuel Chaves told this magazine, some African airports do not have the passenger numbers to sustain investments in some of the high-level technologies, nevertheless airports must improve efficiency for the passenger numbers it processes while those airports that have the numbers must endeavour to invest in more self-service platforms and other baggage handling systems that reduce crowding and improve overall passenger experience. This is the area where African airports need to make intentional and financial decisions to improve passenger experience at their facilities. The CEO of Asky, Mr. Esayas Hailu speaking to Aviation & Allied Business last year in Abuja in November 2023 complained that many airports in Africa do not provide the service commensurate with their charges.


On A final Note

COVID-19 had a huge impact on the aviation industry including the airport sector. With the recovery of the industry and the implementation of initiatives including the SAATM and the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) connectivity in the continent is expected to increase likewise requirements for use of airport services.

African states and government at the least, has to show an obligation to improve the services at airports to drive more passengers. Airports are the first touchpoint for many visitors to many countries and must be accorded their place in Africa. Though the financial requirements are beyond what many governments alone can bear, funding airport infrastructure in Africa has to be pragmatic and focused leveraging on best practices to speed up infrastructure acquisition. African governments also need to take the decision to ensure that revenues from airports are invested into imposing the efficiency level of those airports.

As Dr. Aliu advised: “All investments in aviation infrastructure development and modernization on this continent must be directed to well-managed projects featuring solid business cases and due levels of accountability, transparency and quality assurance,”

Some Recent Airport Investments in Africa

Airport Cost ($) Management Year opened
Angola Airport 3,850,000,000 Public 2023
Rwanda Bugesara 2,000,000,000 Public 2026
Entebbe Airport, Uganda 480,000,000 Public Phase 1 completed
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe 153,000,000 Public 2023
Sierra Leone 270,000,000 Private 2023
Niamey, Niger 174,000,000 Private 2019
Togo 150,000,000 Private 2019
Ethiopia 5,000,000,000 Public 2028 (PHASE 1)

Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos

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