West Africa is composed of 17 nations of which several don’t have any public or private commercial airline, the principal players are Nigeria & Ghana which both have several private airline entities, the others having just one operator regionally. For over 20 years a plan was in place to implement the liberalisation of the African skies known as the Yamoussoukro Decision, this has recently been renamed SAATM, work is ongoing to expand further on open skies policy but politics play a major part in this resulting in restrictive practices and adding to the passenger’s costs. The skies over this region are dominated by expensive overflight costs, so often an airfare from one part of the region to another is similar to or more than a ticket to Europe.
Hence, tourists coming to this part of the world are staggered by their options; a long & tedious overland journey or a short but expensive flight. The alternative is to fly out of the region to North Africa or even Europe to re-enter West & Central Africa with an international airline, but connectivity is slowly improving. Investment in infrastructure has moved forward with a few international airports being upgraded, and Dakar has invested heavily with an ultramodern airport. However, in some regions there is a lack of key operational navigational equipment, particularly during the ‘harmattan’ season (winds from December to February blowing from the Sahara resulting in poor visibility) to allow aircraft to land, hence forcing diversions for operational safety.
More private entities looking to enter the marketplace
However, the region’s future looks exciting. There are more private entities looking to enter the marketplace, there is more investment taking place and with inter-airline cooperation, passengers are starting to seize the benefits. Enhancing connectivity for passengers is vital to growth; there’s encouragement in this post-COVID world to stimulate intra- African tourism, which will reduce the overreliance of using airline traffic from the EU.
Ghana’s Africa World Airlines Fly Africa World has increased its traffic from pre-COVIDdays. Their domestic and international flights to Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia have increased, with the pandemic year of 2021 mirroring passenger numbers in 2019. Their employees are also growing, they’re providing staff with ongoing training, allowing the youth of Ghana to enter a career path which is vital to the industry’s growth and excellent to promote future tourism connectivity. (Source: Africa World Airlines)
Ghana’s main Kotoka International Airport in Accra saw growth during the pandemic year of 2021, which can only be capitalised on in the coming years, particularly in the domestic aviation network, which was at its second highest peak since 2013. (Source: Wikipedia). The airport itself has been extended with the opening of Terminal 3 in 2018, it can handle 1,250 passengers an hour, and is equipped with three business lounges, a large commercial and retail areaand six boarding bridges.
West African connections
However, Ghana isn’t so much of a West African aviation hub as compared to Lome, Dakar, Lagos or Abidjan, which currently have far more sub-regional connectivity. Asky Airlines with a hub in Lome is strategically placed for flights to West and Central Africa, serving 14 destinations in 13 West African countries as well as seven other cities in six Central African countries. It has the added advantage of having the African giant, Ethiopian Airlines as a large shareholder, therefore enabling connectivity across the rest of the continent and beyond on a code share basis. (Source: Fly Asky)
The Ivorian aviation flagship, Air Cote d’Ivoire, which has a mixed PPP ownership currently serves 4 domestic and 17 sub-regional cities with nine of these solely in West Africa. It has Air France/KLM group as a shareholder therefore serves as a hub for interconnectivity for flights to/from Paris CDG: (Photo Source: Air Cote Ivoire ).
Abidjan is an expensive airport to operate from with no competition for airline services such as catering and ground handling, resulting in a monopoly situation for airlines to pay.
Air Senegal serves eight West African cities with two domestic routes to the southern part of the country in Casamance; they also connect into Central Africa with the three capital cities of Cameroon, Gabon and Congo. (Source: Fly Air Senegal). The airline is once again wholly owned by the government; figures are rarely released, but their 2020 bailout is estimated to be US$68 million.
Nigeria has several airlines that fly in the sub-region, with Air Peace being the most prominent, but only flying to five sub-regional cities. The economic powerhouse of Lagos has one sole airport, Murtala Muhammed International (MMIA) which still has issues with infrastructure, particularly both within the airport (although they recently renewed their check-in baggage belts) and with navigational aids to assist with landing in bad weather.
Under international aviation law, the 2nd and 3rd Freedoms of the Air allows an airline the right to transport passengers between two cities in one country as long as the entire service originates or ends in the foreign airline’s parent country. The domestic leg is referred to as a “tag” flight, and the airline is unable to sell tickets between the two domestic departure points in the foreign country.
However, most intra-African flight routes have not been liberalised in accordance with SAATM, so these Freedoms of the Air are not necessarily available. Bilateral agreements remain the predominant form of air transport agreements between African countries thus restrictions on access to these markets allowing for increased seat capacity continue, as well as the aforementioned political red tape which prevents wider integration of West African aviation markets just like some visa requirements. To increase connectivity in the region, West African airlines must be more open to codeshare or interline agreements, as well as the ability for nations to liberalise the skies on par with SAATM and offer more competitiveness on the ground and in the air. It is slowly heading in the right direction, bringing more employment and tourism on a domestic, regional & international level, but there’s still work to do.