African airlines continue to recover from the challenges brought by COVID-19. Both passenger and cargo fleets showed great improvement in 2021 as compared to when the pandemic struck in 2020. Passenger demand for air transport rose to 58% as compared to 2020 when it had fallen to 65% while the international demand for cargo grew by 11.3%in 2021 as compared to 2019, this is according to data released by International Air Transport Association.
International demand for airlines has been recovering at a pace of about 4% per month compared to 2019. However when omicron struck in December 2021, travel restrictions slowed the recovery in international demand for passenger flights by about two weeks. Without Omicron, the international demand was expected to improve to around 57% below 2019 levels but instead the volumes rose marginally to 58% falling from 60%in November.
Overall travel demand strengthened in 2021with the trend continuing into December despite travel restrictions due to the Omicron surge which says a lot about the strength of passenger confidence and desire to travel. In spite of international travel remaining far from normal in many parts of the world, there is momentum in the right direction in this New Year. “A New Year’s resolution for governments should be to focus on building population immunity and stop placing travel barriers in the way of a return to normality,” said Willie Walsh, , IATA’s Director General.
Air cargo increased in 2021 owing to the increased demand that grew by 6.9% compared to 2019. The strength of the Africa-Asia route has led to the growth of the region’s freight services. However the capacity remains constrained with bottlenecks at key hubs greatly influencing air cargo. For instance, labor shortages due to employees being on quarantine, insufficient storage at some airports and processing of backlogs negatively influence air cargo.
However all is not lost as economic conditions also continue to support air cargo growth with global trade and industrial production rising. The inventory to sale ratio remains low which brings positive impact to manufacturers who constantly turn to air cargo to rapidly meet demand. The cost competitiveness of air cargo relative to that of sea container shipping remains favorable hence the growth of air cargo.
“Air cargo had a stellar year in 2021. For many airlines, it provided a vital source of revenue as passenger demand remained in the doldrums due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Growth opportunities, however, were lost due to the pressures of labor shortages and constraints across the logistics system. Overall, economic conditions do point towards a strong 2022,” said Walsh.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also urged governments to accelerate relaxation of travel restrictions as COVID-19 continues to evolve from the pandemic to endemic stage by removing all travel barriers and bans including quarantine and testing for those fully vaccinated with a WHO-approved vaccine as well as enabling quarantine-free travel for non-vaccinated travelers with a negative pre-departure antigen test result.