Air freight sector takes off as Africa develops

The speed at which the African air cargo market is growing is attracting attention

An Ethiopian Airlines plane is seen at the Asmara International Airport in Asmara, Eritrea July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
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It is not just African passenger travel that is expanding – cargo shipments by air are also on the move.

African airlines fly less than 2 per cent of global freight, but have been the fastest growing for almost two years, according to the International Air Transport Association (Iata).

By last January freight volumes were up nearly 25 per cent for African routes than they were the same time the year before.

Iata notes that much of this is between Africa and Asia; "Demand has been boosted by very strong growth in Africa-Asia trade which increased by more than 64 per cent in the first 11 months of last year,” the group says.

The speed at which the African air freight market is growing is attracting attention. German global logistics firm DHL said last month it would partner  Ethiopian Airlines – Africa's largest air cargo carrier.  DHL will use Ethiopian Airlines' network to deliver its cargo.

“With Ethiopia’s projected GDP per capita growth of about 6 per cent through 2022, there will be growing demand for logistics support from business," says Tewolde GebreMariam, Group CEO of Ethiopian Airlines.

Expanding air passenger and freight travel is helped by the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), signed by 23 countries in January this year. This "open skies" agreement is the liberalisation of commercial aviation to create a free-market environment.


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Airlines can fly between any two African cities without having to do so via their home hub airport. Previously, a carrier based in the UK for instance would only travel between African cities via London, for instance.

Even if interconnectivity improves though, these stopover flights will not end entirely anytime soon, says Mory Camara, International Account Manager- Europe-Middle East & Africa at OAG, a digital flight data platform that assists airlines in scheduling.

African travellers have come to see stopovers in centres such as Abu Dhabi as an opportunity to go shopping or meet with expatriate family.

"Many people in Africa have businesses or family in these connecting points outside of Africa and will frequently combine a business trip with a family reunion," Mr Camara says.

The SAATM will also open the way to reducing African departure fees, which the World Bank says are on average 30 per cent higher than anywhere else in the world.

The aviation sector on the continent certainly seems primed for take-off.

Along with 'open skies' and lower airport charges will hopefully come the relaxation of inter-Africa visa restrictions. Right now, many African states only issue embassy visas, making it difficult for travelers to move from country to country.