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What is driving air travel? It may not be what you think

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Boeing’s latest updated sales forecast for the period between 2014 and 2033 projects show a demand for aircraft many may think would not be in such great demand. Randy Tinseth, Vice President of Marketing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said when releasing the latest market data: “With new and more efficient airplanes entering service, the growth in air travel is being driven by customers who want to fly where they want, when they want.”

“Based on the overwhelming amount of orders and deliveries, we see the heart of the single-aisle market in the 160-seat range. There’s no question the market is converging to this size, where network flexibility and cost efficiency meet. The Next-Generation 737-800 and new 737 MAX 8 offer our customers the most revenue potential in this mid-sized space,” Tinseth added. Single and twin-aisle aircraft orders are expected to reach 36,770, with the majority of those being narrow bodies.

According to the Boeing report, fueling this year’s forecast is the single-aisle market, which is projected to be the fastest-growing and most-dynamic segment due to the continued emergence of low-cost carriers. 25,680 new airplanes will be needed in this segment, making up 70 percent of the total units in the forecast. Boeing forecasts that 8,600 new airplanes will be needed in the twin-aisle segment, led by small wide-body airplanes in the 200 to 300 seat range such as the 787-8 and 787-9 Dreamliner. This year’s forecast reflects a continued shift in demand from very large airplanes to efficient new twin-engine products such as the 787-10 and new 777X.

Asia-Pacific: 13,460 deliveries
North America: 7,550 deliveries
Europe: 7,450 deliveries
Middle East: 2,950 deliveries
Latin America: 2,950 deliveries
Russia/C.I.S.: 1,330 deliveries
Africa: 1,080 deliveries
Total: 36,770 deliveries

While the Asia/Pacific region leads world demand by a substantial margin, and North America and Europe are nearly neck-on-neck in the forecasts, Africa once again performs dismally. Africa is seen as the continent with the greatest growth potential for air traffic. With a global air transport market share of only 5 percent, this potential, however, apparently does not translate into significant growth with regard to aircraft sales. Going by Boeing’s forecasts, the African continent comes in last with a projected demand of only 1,080 aircraft, raising the stark prospect that foreign carriers will continue to increase their market share at the expense of African airlines. This comes in spite of best efforts by Africa’s Big Four, namely Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, South African Airways, and Kenya Airways, all of which are individually set to significantly boost their fleets but have, compared to the Gulf giants and European and American legacy carriers, not enough critical mass to stem the tide.

Ongoing restrictive practices in regard of traffic rights by African governments, many of which have made little progress to implement the decades’ old Yamoussoukro Declaration or the various protocols of SADC, COMESA, and the EAC, with regard to aviation integration, combined with hostile visa requirements, are all playing their part to stunt the growth of African airlines. Tax assaults are also seen in Kenya where parliament through their VAT Act has displayed a particularly negative if not outright hostile attitude against airlines, impacting the growth potential of African airlines, leaving both AFRAA and IATA often lost for words when lobbying governments and advocating for greater support for the aviation industry.

All this plays out in favor of the global big league carriers which continue to move aggressively into Africa. Led by the Gulf giants Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar Airways, and also by the Gulf’s low-cost carriers like Fly Dubai and Air Arabia, Turkish Airlines has followed suit, rolling out new African destinations at a breathtaking pace. Most of them are wooing passengers with brand-new airports (Dubai World Central, Doha’s Hamad International, Abu Dhabi’s Central Terminal, and a new multi-runway airport in Istanbul still under construction) while in Africa, apart from South Africa which made major investments in aviation infrastructure ahead of the FIFA World Cup in 2010, big capacity boosts are still many years away.

Boeing’ latest data, which come as no surprise to regular aviation observers, may yet provide a wake-up call to governments when they realize that Africa, as far as aviation is concerned, is last in the rankings, and by common consensus largely because of the way governments and their bureaucrats treat their airlines. If Africa is to rise, considering the number of people on the continent and its sheer size not entirely unreasonable to expect and hope for, it will take major revisions in government policies, laws, and regulations to accomplish this.

The upcoming inaugural ICAO/UNWTO meeting in the Seychelles in October will provide a perfect platform to discuss measures, which will benefit both aviation and tourism sectors in Africa, set an agenda, and formulate an immediate action plan so that in time to come, Africa will rise in global aviation rankings and prove that it indeed is the world’s last economic frontier with boundless opportunities.

Source: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Africa Correspondent

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