Airline sector in Africa soaks up $10b loss

Tuesday June 08 2021
or tambo

Travellers at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. PHOTO | MICHELE SPATARI | AFP


The airline industry in Africa recorded a passenger revenue loss of about $10.21 billion for the year 2020, with passenger numbers dropping from 95 million in 2019 to 34.7 million in 2020, representing a year-on-year decline of 63.7 percent.

The African Airlines Association published its impact assessment analysis on June 2, giving an in-depth analysis of the continent’s air industry performance for 2020, showing that the carriers will continue to lose money in 2021, although it is expected to reduce to about $8.35 billion.

From the end of March, the majority of carriers grounded their aircraft causing a drastic seat and revenue per kilometre drop of 85 percent and 94 percent respectively in April. The reduction in traffic continued until June, before reversing with the gradual opening of borders.

The survey also found that African airlines carried more domestic traffic in 2020, making 43 percent of their total traffic.

“The leading carriers in terms of domestic traffic are airlines like Safair, Ethiopian Airlines, Mango Airlines, and Air Algerie. Those five airlines carried 4.8 million passengers on domestic routes during the year. International traffic represented 57 percent breaking down into 19 percent of Intra-African and 38 percent of intercontinental passengers.”

Europe is the major international destination of African airlines, representing 21 percent and even exceeding Intra African traffic (19 percent), domestic excluded. Traffic to the Middle East tended to increase, while traffic to Asia reduced due to Covid-19.


Northern Africa leads in passenger numbers, representing 36.6 percent of the total continental traffic, boosted by European tourists. Eastern Africa is second with a share of 22.2 percent of the continent’s market. Domestic and Intra-African traffic are dominant in this region, both representing 70 percent of the traffic in 2020.

Southern Africa suffered a 63.6 percent drop in traffic due to Covid-19 with the region having only 21 percent of the continental traffic but its share of domestic market grew to 77 percent in the last quarter of 2020, from 66 percent before Covid-19.

Central and Western African regions both represented 19.7 percent of the traffic in Africa.

Johannesburg and Cairo were the busiest airports as per landings and take-offs, with Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi leading ranking by freight traffic handling more than 330,000 tonnes in 2020 followed by Cairo’s 280,000 tonnes.