A land of opportunities, constrained by challenges
Whether more carriers target this market or not, one thing’s for certain: Cargo in Africa is on the rise. Nowhere is this more evident than in the International Air Transport Association’s June statistics. Although carriers in several regions reported lagging airfreight volumes in June, African airlines recorded a 15.9 percent, year-over-year, increase domestic cargo in traffic amid a 12.1 percent, year-over-year, capacity surge.
Despite this positive development, African carriers also reported an alarmingly high accident rate in June. On June 2, an Allied Air Cargo freighter overshot the runway at Ghana’s Kotoka International Airport and crashed into a minibus, killing a dozen passengers. One day later, Dana Air Flight 992 slammed into a residential building in nearby Nigeria. The crash — which reportedly stemmed from an engine fire — resulted in 159 casualties.
Tragic coincidence or not, these incidences highlight the aviation problems that have long plagued Africa — issues that IATA addressed in its 2011 global accident rate report. Although the total number of accidents among African carriers fell from 18 in 2010 to eight in 2011, Africa is still the most problematic region in the industry, according to IATA.
In fact, IATA reports, the accident rate for African carriers not appearing on the IATA Operational Safety Audit registry is quintuple the global average; the rate among African carriers on the IOSA registry, however, is nearly equivalent to the world average.
Such a discrepancy led aviation authorities to devise the Africa Strategic Improvement Action Plan. The plan, sanctioned by IATA and the International Civil Aviation Organization, calls for all African carriers to complete IATA Operational Safety Audit registration and contains specific ways to improve aviation safety in Africa from now until 2015. Key objectives range from the establishment of independent African civil aviation authorities to the implementation of flight data analysis and safety management systems. IATA and ICAO also encourage African officials to employ “transparent” safety oversight systems and accident-prevention measures, with the latter focused on runway safety and loss of control.
Tony Tyler, IATA’s director general and CEO, believes such developments could drastically improve Africa’s aviation infrastructure. “Over the years, there have been many initiatives to improve African safety,” he says. “While progress has been made, the problem has not been solved. This time could be different.” After all, Tyler says, “The eyes of the word are on the continent’s economic expansion.”
Much of Africa’s economic growth is stemming from intra-regional trade, insiders say. AfricaWest Cargo, for instance, has seen such strong volumes out of Western and Central Africa that it is looking to serve 10 new African destinations in the near future. Demand for petroleum, oil and gas equipment, and telecommunications products is propelling the need for increased services, Erbs says. He reveals that AfricaWest Cargo has also been eying the Far East for growth, in hopes of better addressing the Africa-to-China trade lane.
Pilot’s Wenrich expects more carriers to follow suit, as “more people want to get their hands on the natural resources that Africa has to offer.” He says some are even referring to Africa as the “new India or China.” Industry hype or not, trade in Africa shows no signs of slowing down, Wenrich maintains. “And Africa’s is an interesting place because we still don’t know the potential there,” he says.
Whether that potential is hindered by the continent’s high accident rate and cross-border violence or fostered by improvements to Africa’s aviation infrastructure remains to be seen, however.