TAAG airlines plane at the Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport (credit: clydesideimages.co.uk)

In a previous article, we wrote a guide to the key airports in Central Africa. We’ll now take a look at the growth opportunities in the aviation industry in this dynamic region.

What are the ideal conditions we need to look out for?

While there are plenty of airports in the region, it can be hard to disnguish between the ones that may potentially offer business opportunities, and the others that will only remain regional access points. Here are some criteria that we have put together to help identify potential opportunities in the region for aviation businesses:

  • Foreign investment – if a country’s aviation sector is being developed through foreign investment, the potential growth opportunities will increase as the industry grows.
  • Growing development – if a country’s ecomony is experiencing growth, then the aviation sector will also follow the same trajectory. Economic development has key growth markers – such as the average income of the country’s citizens, their standard of living, the development levels of public infrastructure and the stability of the country’s politics. A thriving tourism industry is also a marker to look for.
  • Airline confidence – there is no clearer signal than foreign airlines operating (or planning to operate) to the country’s major airport. If, for example, a flagship carrier like Emirates is operating daily flights, then the region’s commerce industry is most likely healthy – and therefore could present potential business opportunities.

There are a few trends in the region that airlines should plan around before expanding into Central Africa.

Massive growth to Europe

According to aviation authority ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), all flights in Africa are biased towards specific routes. Statistically, the top international destination region from Africa is to Europe (41%), followed by intra-Africa (27%) and then lastly to the Middle East (19%). When it comes to cargo, half of all outbound parcels head to Europe.

Any airline looking to expand into Central Africa and focus on international travel, should consider focusing on Europe (or at least have connections or a partner offering European-bound services) before looking at the local market.

With the current status of the aviation industry in Central Africa, international routes could potentially be lucrative: in 2017, according to ICAO, 5 countries in the region have no international airline, 3 countries only have one international airline, and two countries have two international airlines.

The number of international airlines per country in Central Africa

Minimal connections linking West and Central Africa

In the same study, it was revealed that there are minimal direct connections between destinations on Africa’s West coast and Central Africa.

For example, a trip between Accra, Ghana to Kinshasa, DRC, can take 56 hours by car, or over a day by commercial air travel. This is despite the fact that the distance between these two cities is similar to the distance between Madrid and Istanbul – a trip which would be just over 4 hours by direct flight. The disadvantage for passengers in Central Africa at present is that the majority of commercial aircraft need to fly through a regional hub (like Addis Ababa), and so passengers must fly much further to reach a destination that could be a shorter flight via private aircraft.

inter-africa flights

Connections within Africa can be poor.

Considering that inter-Africa is looking to gain a 5.8% increase in traffic year-on-year, any airline that focuses on the West to Central Africa services, has the potential to make a good return on their investment.

What needs to be improved?

The region of Central Africa has its challenges for businesses wanting to operate in the area. There are several things that need to be implemented by all parties to kickstart aviation, and to tackle the problems of the area’s weak aviation infrastructure, high plane ticket prices, minimal connectivity between airports, and lack of economic liberalization.

  • Many government policies restrict private enterprises from investing in public infrastructure or local airlines. By opening up the economy to foreign investment, the aviation sector can bloom and several financial gaps (especially in the local sector) and be bridged. Foreign investment may also minimise the risk of corruption, and assist in speeding up the momentum of industry development.
  • Borders need to be opened. Border restrictions on tourists and trade, regularly impact the ability for commerce to change hands. According to an IATA survey, if just twelve key African countries opened their markets and increased connectivity, an extra 155,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in annual GDP would be created in those countries. If the aviation sector has the opportunity to grow in this area, there is the potential for thousands of jobs to be created.
  • Ticket prices need to be lower. In Africa, it can cost a small fortune to fly because there are fewer direct routes, many routes require going to distant hubs before flying to the destination, and many of the cities in the area are further away from these hubs. Like the West to Central Africa link mentioned above, if a firm focused on bringing low-cost travel to the region they would be spoiled for choice in terms of routes to offer passengers.

So what airports and regions have the most potential?

Angola – Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport (LAD)

With the vast new international airport construction well underway, Angola is about to see a flood of new Asia-bound business. Airlines and other aviation services would be right to focus on this growing hub for all sorts of new opportunities. But it’s not just airlines that should take notice, airport supplier firms should be looking to take notice of the airport’s development. The airport plans to become TSA approved and allow direct flights to the United States (as it did previously to Houston, Texas until 2018). In order to do this, it will require specific North American equipment in order to meet the qualification requirements.

Due to the fact that there is a new airport, there will be more space at the older facility for freight and other aircraft services. A smart move may be a new inter-Africa carrier that services demand in the region (perhaps using aircraft such as these).  This secondary and older airport is being upgraded to match the new airport with a spend of around 300 million USD. The government has also been hard at work upgrading 17 of 30 airports throughout the country to accommodate domestic air travel (although only 12 are regularly flown to by TAAG, the national domestic carrier).

Plus Angola meets our requirement for government investment. Not only have they partnered with China for the new hub airport, but they have also invested in American aircraft for their national airline. The Angolan government has emphasised that transport (aviation and rail) is their top priority over the next five years. It has also allowed up to 10% private investment into the national carrier, and will likely expand this as it witnesses the success of this ownership model.

Speaking of the national carrier, it faces an aging fleet problem. Aircraft need to be serviced in-house and spare parts flown in from the United States. Aviation services that can help solve this bottleneck (especially since the aircraft engines need to be repaired in the GE United Kingdom facilities) could fill a market gap.

Overall Angola’s current development trajectory is one to keep an eye on for business opportunities.

The Republic of the Congo – Maya-Maya Airport & Agostinho-Neto International Airport

We can’t ignore the twin airports in the Republic Of The Congo. Like Angola above, the country has seen vast investment from Chinese firms eager to help them develop into new powerhouse economies (in exchange for favorable access to the country’s raw resources). With investment in the aviation sector, these two airports both have opportunity for firms to bring modern technologies and supplies to bring them up to code.

Gabon – Léon-Mba International Airport

With impressive international flight connectivity and further government investment, Gabon’s Léon-Mba International Airport holds plenty of potential for aviation firms.

Gabon has also been hard at work bringing its aviation infrastructure up to international standards. The Europeon Union’s 2008 ban on Gabon carriers entering Europe’s airspace, was overturned after eleven years in 2019. 

“Today’s decision illustrates our continuous efforts to offer the highest level of safety. Not only to European travellers, but to travellers worldwide, because aviation safety knows no border or nationalities. I am pleased to announce that the European Commission was able today to clear all Gabonese air carriers from the EU Air Safety List. Gabon was on the List already since 2008, so it is very good that we can recognise the efforts the aviation safety authorities in Gabon have made.” – Commissioner for Transport Adina Vălean

With further investment, Gabon will become yet another busy hub location. Watch this space.

Equatorial Guinea Malabo International Airport

We end this list with one of the hidden gems of Central Africa. Equatorial Guinea worked very hard to be awarded the highest possible safety rating from ICAO in 2018.

When winning the award, the Council President of ICAO ( Dr. Olumuyiwa Bernard Aliu) emphasized that “conformity with ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices is a major enabler towards enhancing the effective participation of States in international air transport, and that this is particularly important for Small Island Developing States and emerging economies such as Equatorial Guinea.”

Dr. Aliu also applauded “the decisive and effective actions taken by Equatorial Guinea to bring positive changes into its aviation sector, through airport, air navigation and airline infrastructure modernization and expansion, training and capacity building for aviation personnel, and safety oversight system enhancement.” 

With this safety rating firmly in the books, and a new passenger terminal almost complete, Malabo International Airport is open for business. With access to wonderful beaches, vibrant culture, and abundant resources, aviation firms can be confident in their choise of Malabo International Airport as a potential investment move.

Grow in Central Africa with Eways Aviation

Let Eways Aviation be your eyes on the ground in Central Africa and help you understand opportunities for your firm. Get in touch today, and our African aviation experts will guide you.