Post-COVID: Ethiopia leads African airlines in recovery

Africa’s most successful airline, Ethiopia Airlines, has taken positive steps to promote travel and air service connectivity throughout the pandemic. The carrier, since the pandemic, has done tremendously well to bounce back to profitability.


This includes accepting vaccinated travelers without restrictions, managing the cost of PCR testing to ensure it is affordable and implementing a testing regime that accepts both PCR and rapid antigen tests. These measures have put the carrier on a faster track to recovery, not just for air transport, but across the economy.


As a result, Ethiopian Airlines is outperforming African carriers as a whole, particularly in the African continent’s average demand for air transport services. It goes without saying that COVID-19 has had a heavy toll on the world economy and aviation has been one of the  hardest-hit industries.


While the pandemic is slowly coming to an end, thanks to vaccination schemes, and the prevalence of herd immunity, combined with high-season demand, global airlines are looking to make a gradual recovery from the pandemic toll.


In the case of the African aviation industry, the continent had a strained, albeit promising, aviation industry before the pandemic.


Nigeria, for instance, was pushing the boundaries in terms of airline numbers and new airports, along with rising African flyers such as RwandAir appearing alongside major carriers that included Ethiopian Airlines and Egypt Air.


That said, the continent still has challenges to overcome due to the general lack of resources, weak MRO capabilities, and aging aircraft fleets.


Statistics show that Africa is the region experiencing the highest decrease in passenger demand due to the pandemic, raising concerns that regional recovery may not return to prepandemic levels for some time.


This would be a severe blow to the continent since a powerful aviation network is needed to maintain the continent’s economic and social development momentum. It could take up to two more years for African aviation to return to the performance levels observed in 2019.

Since the majority of African countries do not have the luxury of government bailouts, several proposals have been made to keep the industry alive and put it on the path to recovery.


Ethiopian Airlines is outperforming African airlines in terms of passenger traffic. Boardings to, from, and within Ethiopia in June 2021 were only 30 per cent less than in June 2019, a significant improvement on the 47 per cent drop in the same January period.


Ethiopia’s June performance was well ahead of the overall 66.6 per cent drop (compared to 2019) recorded for the entire African continent. Passenger demand is not expected to recover to pre-COVID levels for the continent until at least 2023.


Experts are of the view that Africa needs to establish a set of key priorities to support and sustain a recovery in aviation.

These include digitalisation of health certificates, releasing blocked funds, and the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.


As passenger numbers increase in the recovery, digitally managing travel health credentials will be essential to avoid queuing and crowding airports.


The African Union’s Trusted Travel Pass and the IATA Travel Pass are both tools that can help governments efficiently and conveniently verify traveler health credentials  Approximately $59 million (as of August) in airline funds are being blocked from repatriation in Ethiopia. IATA stated that resolving this quickly is critical for airlines to continue providing connectivity needed to sustain jobs and energize economies as they recover from COVID-19.


Meanwhile, the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) was the solution to unlocking travel within the African continent pre-pandemic. Post-pandemic it will provide an even more important economic boost to the continent.


Full implementation of SAATM across the continent would generate significant economic benefits for Ethiopia, namely creating 21,000 new jobs and adding $81.8 million to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).


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