Out of Africa

Ethiopian Airlines has weathered coups, wars and other catastrophes yet still remains among the world’s most consistently profitable airlines. Even when the country’s Marxist government nationalised pretty much everything in sight Ethiopian Airlines went untouched.

Other African airlines, like South African Airways and Air Algerie, also have considerable pull. The latter has invested heavily in new fleet and freight terminals over the last few years. Chinese routes have been particularly significant, as have new links to Brazil. These developments reflect Africa’s position as a link between Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC).

When it comes to MRO activities there’s a lot more focus on the Middle and Far East. No surprise, the former has the capital for expansion while the latter has the economic growth to support an expanding airline industry. 

But if any continent is dependent on aviation it’s Africa. For many regions air travel beats roads and rail for reliability. In some areas, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, there’s no real alternative to air transport. 

Then there’s Chinese investment in the continent. It stood at about $20bn ten years ago. This year it hit $325bn. Angola and Nigeria in particular see an awful lot of that money because both contain vast oil reserves.

Chinese businessmen and engineers are going to need air transport to these countries. No wonder the Chinese are building airports across the continent. Kotoka Airport, the second-largest airport for Accra, Ghana is being built by China Airport Civil Construction (CAAC). Then there’s a new facility in Luanda, Angola. And Khartoum, Sudan. And Bugesera, Rwanda. And Julius Nyerere International, Tanzania. And on and on.

Africa might not be developing an aviation industry at Asian speeds, but the foundations are being laid now for massive expansion in a decade or so. Infrastructure is being updated across the continent, along with new fleets. A canny MRO provider could capitalise on the growth to come. 

This might also help combat the dismal safety record across the continent, which accounts for a disproportionate number of accidents for its size.  

There’s also expansion in the business jet market. Nigeria’s business jet fleet is larger than the country’s commercial fleet. 

MRO facilities are being improved across the continent, with new sites opening in Kenya and Nigeria in recent months. South Africa could prove to be a crucial hub for local MROs. The country has the continent’s most advanced aerospace industry, but it will need to expand outside the defence sphere if it is to capitalise on civil opportunities that will be on offer in the next few decades. 

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