14 June 2024

Business Jet Market Growing Roots in Africa

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Source: AINOnline

In Africa, perceptions of business aviation are changing slowly but surely. Gone are the days when business aviation was perceived as a means of transport only for extremely affluent people, and today it is considered an economic catalyst that enables countries to boost investment and spur development.

Without business aviation, investing in many parts of Africa would have been difficult, especially given the absence of efficient road and rail transport in the vast continent, industry leaders point out. Business aviation is supporting economic growth in the mineral-rich continent by ferrying precious minerals such as gold and diamonds. In West and Central Africa, business jets play a pivotal role in serving the oil and gas industry by transporting staff and operating emergency and medevac flights. In East Africa, business aircraft support the booming tourism sector by transporting tourists to beaches, national parks, and safaris.

Medevac is also an important activity for business aircraft. With a lack of fully-equipped hospitals and specialized doctors throughout the continent, private aviation plays a role in filling the gap, operating medevac flights to countries with more developed health systems.

Business jet flights are operated between West Africa and Europe, North Africa to Europe, and East Africa to the Middle East. But still, the majority of the business aircraft flights are operated in the intra-African routes.

According to Danie Joubert, v-p of sales in Africa for international broker Jetcraft, many companies are adding business units across more countries in Africa, creating a need for air travel. Joubert stated that demand for business jet ownership is rising dramatically across the continent, as seen in countries such as Angola, Uganda, and Ghana.

“In Kenya, which already has a strong installed base of short-range private aircraft used for tourism, we are seeing growing interest in larger jets for longer missions. Established markets such as Nigeria and South Africa remain vibrant.”

With 418 business jets in Africa, South Africa has the largest business aircraft fleet with 137, followed by Kenya and Nigeria.

“Rather than being the last post for many aging aircraft, the continent is now seen as a viable center for operations, where leading OEMs actively sell their newest models and international operating standards are the norm,” added Alcinda Pereira, chair of the African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA), the pan-African industry advocate with 40 members based in Africa, Europe, and the U.S.

Pereira, AfBAA’s first woman chair, said the association, which was established in 2012, has played a significant part in changing the perception of the industry and continues to strengthen its ties with its members and international and regional institutions to foster the growth, understanding, and acceptance of business aviation.

“AfBAA’s aim is to promote business and general aviation as a positive tool for economic development in Africa that is valued and supported by African governments, civil aviation authorities, and aviation industry stakeholders throughout Africa,” she added.

In 2018, AfBAA widened its remit to include both business and general aviation in Africa. “This has significantly expanded and strengthened AfBAA’s footprint on the continent and has firmly positioned it as the official voice of business and general aviation in Africa,” Pereira said, adding, “We have grown in membership since Covid, and we see nothing but great things in aviation going forward.”

According to AfBAA, Africa’s aviation sector is steadily recovering from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Air cargo has rebounded by 31.4 percent, and air travel is at 93 percent of 2019 levels. Pre-pandemic passenger traffic levels are expected to be achieved this year.

For a continent housing over 15 percent of the world’s population, Africa only accounts for 3 percent of global air traffic. However, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts that seven of the top 10 fastest-growing aviation economies in the next 20 years will be in Africa.

AfBAA’s executives are optimistic that growth bodes well for business aviation as well and will draw key investors, particularly from Europe, necessary to build up the services side of the sector.

“Africa offers attractive investment opportunities for global business aviation players due to its expanding middle class, resource-rich economies, and untapped aviation market potential,” said Gavin Kiggen, vice chair of AfBAA. “There is a rising demand for charter services, maintenance centers, and aircraft sales in the region.”

According to Kiggen, African governments and regulators are beginning to understand that business aviation is a valuable business tool, which has resulted in streamlined investment in the continent.

“The understanding of the value of business aviation to Africa is tied to the need for corporations to travel to expand and have business success, whether locally or internationally. This is why companies like the AfBAA members are constantly strengthening their footprint,” Kiggen said.

Dawit Lemma, founder and CEO of Ethiopia-based aviation services provider Krimson Aviation, said one of the most positive developments is acceptance from regulatory bodies on the continent. Regulators are now beginning to understand that business and general aviation and commercial aviation are not the same operations and require their own set of regulations, Lemma said. “A great example of this is the new General Aviation Safety Strategy that the South African Civil Aviation Authority embarked on,” he noted.

However, not everything is as rosy as it looks. Business aviation operators have been facing a myriad of challenges thwarting the growth of the sector.

Lack of awareness, political instability, armed conflicts, inadequate airport infrastructure, a lengthy flight permit process, and exorbitant landing and ground handling fees are among the long list of challenges affecting business aviation operations in Africa.

Political instability within the continent is one of the major challenges that hamper the development of business aviation. Business aviation practitioners lament that the continent has many active conflict zones. In the last couple of years, largely in West Africa and Central Africa, many parts of African airspace have advisories on the flight levels that business aircraft can operate to due to active conflict zones.

Steep taxes and airport charges are another hurdle. According to IATA, Africa has some of the highest taxes and charges levied on aviation fuel and the highest landing fees/charges. These costs are passed on to the passenger, keeping airfares high and making air travel more expensive than elsewhere in the world.

In addition, there have been significant challenges with visa facilitation in African countries. However, in recent years, some countries have eased the visa process. Jon Howell, founder and CEO of AviaDev Africa, said openness in Africa is improving as countries realize that high visa charges and time-consuming procedures are detrimental to leisure and business tourism. “Great strides have been made with the implementation of e-visas and visas on arrival. A good example of this is the visa agreement between Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda,” Howell said.

African countries are also striving to address the challenges of poor airport infrastructure. “There have been some notable new airport investments over the past years in Africa, but there are still a lot of airports with poor facilities and more importantly airports that are operating near or above capacity,” Howell said. “The airport infrastructure needs to keep up with the pace of route development on the continent if the market is to achieve growth,” he added.

Another barrier to the significant growth of business aviation in Africa is the lack of qualified pilots in the continent. Pereira said some aviation nonprofit organizations focus on supporting the professional development of pilots, air traffic controllers, and other aviation professionals through scholarships, mentorship programs, and training opportunities. “AfBAA is looking at aviation as a whole, to see the downfalls and developments within Africa. We want to see the industry grow in all aspects to benefit all industries.”

In most African countries, business aircraft maintenance is unavailable.  “Maintenance for these aircraft types remains challenging, with either poor or nonexistent maintenance support being available outside of South Africa or Kenya,” Kiggen said.

Lemma also points to challenges surrounding aircraft financing, and flight operation requirements such as permits, fuel, and other facilities catering to business aviation. “The biggest challenge in obtaining permits, be that VIP or medevac, is the inconsistency in process and timelines in obtaining a permit across different states, even neighboring countries,” Lemma said. “Country A might only require aircraft documents and process the permit online within 24 hours. However, state B could be a neighboring state that requires aircraft, crew, and ownership documents and has to physically process at the CAA with a turnaround of more than 72 hours,” he added. Delayed flight permits unfortunately cost lives.

Despite all the challenges, executives of AfBAA remain optimistic about the future of business aviation in the continent.

“While some lingering effects of Covid are still being felt by the business aviation industry in Africa, the consensus of the leading companies is that 2023 was a positive year, financially, and that private aviation’s recovery was faster than initially projected,” Kiggen said.

Further, he said, emerging economies such as Angola, Uganda, Ghana, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are all becoming vital players in the industry.

“While South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria continue to lead the way in terms of aircraft sales and charter demand, more actors with increased capacity to supply services is good news for the end-user.”

With growth in the oil and gas industry, mining, and the burgeoning tourism sector, the future of business aviation in Africa seems promising.

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