Regional African Airports Set For Post-Pandemic Rise

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By Hani El-Assad


As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and air transport operations start to normalize, regional airports in Africa are expected to begin recovering fast. According to SITA’s data, Africa continues its strong aviation recovery in the week start October 6, 2021, already reaching 64% of pre-pandemic flight activity. Forty-three percent of traffic carried by African airlines during 2020 was domestic, while 38 percent was intercontinental and 19 percent intra-African.

Hani El-Assad, President, Middle East & Africa, SITA

Increased travel poses a significant challenge and an opportunity for the continent. The challenge will be incorporating stringent health and safety best practices in an already limited and sometimes over-strained space.  Passengers and airlines will demand airports to be ready for more efficient, flexible, and safe operations, while airports look for ways to generate new revenue streams.

As passengers return to the skies, airports will once again face the same landside and airside capacity constraints they were experiencing in pre-COVID times, but with the added hurdle of managing the new COVID-era health requirements.

To achieve this shift towards recovery, the only path for airports to take is digitalization. Automating some of their processes will help airports quickly restart operations and assist them in coping with future capacity constraints while addressing the need to look for alternative revenue streams. Transforming the passenger experience, fulfilling travelers’ demand for better efficiencies, and ensuring they feel safe to travel again will remain priorities. For all this to work, regional airports need to react quickly, look at scalable solutions that can future-proof their operations, acquire the technical infrastructure required to decrease operation and maintenance costs, and enhance the passenger experience through automation.

Technology remains essential to the recovery, and airports, airlines, and governments must collaborate closely to aid air transport’s more sustainable and resilient future.

Ethiopian Airlines has been the fastest-growing airline in Africa over the past decade or so. It has made ground where many other airlines have struggled by adopting innovative technology that automates the passenger journey and boosts operational efficiency. By September 2020, the airline was already back to 40% capacity.  Earlier this year, SITA announced a new technology deployment offering passengers enhanced check-in and bag drop self-services with Ethiopian Airlines at Bole International Airport (ADD).


The deployment, which features SITA

Smart Path Drop and Fly baggage solution, has been implemented in the new extension of the check-in area with international passengers of Ethiopian Airlines benefitting from the service.

Some African airports are also looking to future-proof operations by investing in technology infrastructure and solutions adaptable to fluctuating passenger numbers and changing health regulations.


As passenger numbers increase in the recovery, digitally managing travel health credentials will be essential to avoid long lines and crowding at airports. IATA Travel Pass and SITA’s Health Protect solution, and the African Union’s Trusted Travel Pass are all tools that can help governments efficiently and conveniently verify traveler health credentials.

The African Union’s Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is intended to unlock travel and economic benefits within the continent. An IATA-commissioned econometric study found that the full implementation of SAATM across the continentwould bring huge benefits. For example in South Africa this would create 14,500 new jobs and add US$283.9 million to its GDP. The impact is likely to be similar across the continent.

Passenger and airline expectations

Passengers traveling from regional airports also demand the same digital experience and efficiencies they receive at international hubs. On top of that come greater airline expectations, route volatility, space constraints, staff multi-tasking, and a myriad more. Then, of course, as journeys become more digital, there’s the growing need for seamless interoperation across travel systems and technologies – not just among airports large and small, but also with other modes of transport. From our experience in digitizing the industry – before and during the pandemic – we see common issues facing highly cost-conscious regional airports, with a desire to fund the types of intelligent digital ways of working found in larger airports.

The good news is that cloud technology makes the digital journey and cutting-edge IT affordable and accessible for regional airports. With leading passenger processing capabilities accessible via the cloud, airports can enable shared common-use approaches most cost-effectively, saving on infrastructure, space, and maintenance. Not only that, they’re well placed to embrace additional capabilities as they choose, such as self-boarding, self-bag drop, off-airport processing, and more.


Readying for a flexible future

The Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana has recently deployed SITA Flex, the next Gen SITA common use platform throughout the terminal to improve passenger processing and prepare for increasing regional travel volumes. The terminals allow passengers to check-in and print documentation for any flight irrespective of carrier or destination.

SITA also recently implemented a lite version of it’s Baggage Reconciliations System (BRS Lite) for BADR Airlines Ground Handling operations in Sudan.

Gambia Civil Aviation Authority has also adapted to customer requirements to enable a more efficient and effective passenger processing experience,  including the introduction of SITA Flex in Banjul International Airport to facilitate a low-touch, fully mobile passenger experience through cloud technology. SITA Bag Manager, SITA Operations Manager, Information Display Systems, and SITA Smart Path Check-In Kiosks are also operating, marking a sharp shift to a more automated, touchless travel process. With this technology, airlines can enable passengers to use their mobiles to have a near walk-through, touchless airport experience. In contrast, airport workforces can use mobile devices to coordinate and perform tasks efficiently.


Best in class baggage and airport management IT

One of the biggest demands we see is cost-effective access to best-in-class baggage and airport management systems. SITA recently launched a simple, scalable, and more affordable version of our leading baggage reconciliation system, The SITA Bag Manager, that allows smaller airports to reduce the number of mishandled bags by up to 20% by automating the typically manual process of reconciliation. Optimizing bag handling services can boost dwindling revenue for airports. They can also shore up declining revenue; an airport that processes 4 million bags per year could generate approximately $100,000 over five years by implementing this technology.

While the operational challenges for international hubs are similar, we’ll likely see regional airports experiencing capacity constraints sooner. The potential for national economic prosperity will be significantly affected by their ability to improve the passenger journey while cutting costs and managing evolving health requirements through technology.

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