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Air travel’s global recovery will be slowest in Africa in 2022

A seated passenger, with one arm resting on a bag, faces a sign for South African Airways at an airport
Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
Slow flight day?
  • Alexander Onukwue
By Alexander Onukwue

West Africa correspondent

Published Last updated

Global air travel is bouncing back from the dire days of the covid-19 pandemic. The industry lost nearly $140 billion in 2020, but that will come down to under $10 billion this year, according to the International Air Transport Association’s report this week. In fact, the North American market is expected to revert to its 2019 status of profitability.

But air travel’s recovery is not happening at the same pace across the world. While demand in North America this year will almost be equal to 2019, IATA expects demand in Africa will be lower than the global average of 82%.

Why is Africa’s recovery slower than the rest?

Air travel’s return in Africa can be seen in the resumption of in-person continental events, from the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament in Cameroon in January to the gathering of African CEOs in Côte d’Ivoire this month. Between the first quarters of 2019 and 2022, the number of passengers in Nigeria’s domestic air travel market increased by one-quarter. Only Colombia posted a better growth figure (31.7%) in the world.

But IATA says “lower vaccination rates have dampened [Africa’s] air travel recovery to date.”

The report (pdf) does not elaborate on how this is happening but the implication is possibly two-fold: that many potential travelers from Africa are unable to meet vaccination requirements in some countries, and/or that people from the rest of the world are not keen to travel to Africa given the continent’s low vaccination rates.

Africa has received 823 million doses of the covid-19 vaccine, administering 72% of that, the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says. Only 17.6% of the continent is fully vaccinated.

Africa’s aviation industry is expected to report a loss of $700 million this year, the lowest figure among the five regions that will report losses this year. But other regions’ losses from 2021 are expected to reduce faster than Africa’s.

Higher crude oil prices, aided by the Russia-Ukraine war, have driven up jet fuel prices around the world. Airlines in Nigeria have been battling with this problem all-year long, causing the cost of local flights to increase at least twice.

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