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African airlines grow amid worries of insufficient infrastructure

posted 2 Aug 2012, 10:07 by Mpelembe   [ updated 2 Aug 2012, 10:11 ]

Growth in Africa's airline industry, fueled by continent's burgeoning middle-class, opens up opportunities for aircraft manufacturers who rush to fill the gap.

As Africa commercial airlines industry connectivity grows at an estimated 7 per cent annually according to the Boeing company, the competition for sales of aircraft between airline manufacturing companies takes off.
According to Boeing, Africa market will require 900 new airplanes valued at $120 billion USD over the 20 years. This is a 12 percent increase from 2011 forecast and both Boeing and Airbus are vying to fill the gaps.

Currently, Boeing has 78 orders booked, coming from Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya and South Africa among others.

Miguel Santos, Boeing's Director of Sales for Africa, predicts that Africa aviation market will outpace the world the average due to strong economic growth in the region.

"The market in Africa is a very important market for Boeing. We have seen enormous amount in growth. Africa is an expanding economy in itself, it is growing dramatically. We have an increase in the middle class in Africa, with that increase there is more expendable income available for traveling," he said.

The African Development Bank projects that Africa's middle class will grow by more than 700 million people over the next few decades. United Nations data shows that urban dwellers constituted about 15 percent of Africa's population in 1950 but are expected to be 50 percent by 2030 -- a trajectory similar to that of Asia.

Southern Africa Airbus representative Linden Birns says the growth of Africa is reflected on the Airbus order book.

"We have an order booked for about 246 aircrafts on the continent of which about 180 odd or 190 currently in service with the airlines," he said.

But growing demand puts strain on existing infrastructure and staff. Boeing projects Africa's aviation industry will need 14,500 pilots and 16, 200 maintenance technicians over the next 20 years.

"The challenges on aviation growth really around the infrastructure. The airlines are growing fast and want to grow fast, but is there infrastructure to support it? Are there enough train pilots to support growth that needs to happen? Is there going be growth on the ground at airports etc. to support the growth that airlines needs?" asks Michael Warner, Director of Aviation Market Analysis.

Some airport authorities and airlines already recognise the need to address these issues if growth is to continue unabated.

The Nairobi Airport Authorities, for example, have launched an expansion project to modernise the airport and enable it to handle 7 million more passengers that it was originally designed for.

As African airlines grow and modernize, operating routes historically dominated by foreign carriers and opening new links between the cities on the continent, it is hoped air travel will become easier and more affordable for even more Africans.