Over the past decade, Africa has enjoyed an annual average economic growth rate of 5%, making it one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. A rising population and growing wealth are helping to fuel the trend.
The number of middle class households in African countries could reach 128 million by 2020, up from 85 million in 2008, according to a report by consultants McKinsey. That means more demand for refrigerators, television sets, mobile phones and cars.
As people buy more goods and move around more, air traffic is rising. In the year ending November 2014, African airlines enjoyed a 10.5% growth in demand measured in freight tonne kilometers, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). That’s almost twice the 4.2% growth of the global freight market over the same period.
“We are seeing strong demand for air freight from importers and exporters,” says Hugues Marchessaux, airfreight director at Bolloré Africa Logistics in Paris. In particular, companies are opting for air instead of sea transport for urgent shipments such as supplies and parts for the oil industry or pharmaceuticals such as vaccines, as well as for high-value goods.
That’s a reflection of the global market for air transport that accounts for just 1% of the volume of goods transported but 35% of the value.
In addition, air transport is perfectly suited to sending goods to landlocked African countries such as Niger and Burkina Faso where road transport can be lengthy with a high risk of delay, especially at borders, Marchessaux adds.
For example, it takes around 24 hours to transport goods between Johannesburg in South Africa and Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by plane compared to six days by an express truck service and 15 days by a traditional truck service.
Speed comes at a cost, however. Air transport is around three times more expensive than express trucks in South Africa, Marchessaux says.
There are other challenges. It can be tough to find an airport able to accommodate some of the larger cargo planes especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. SDV also has to take into account the ease of loading and unloading when selecting an airport because some airports lack adequate handing equipment, Marchessaux says.
The availability of cargo planes and the reliability of air transport, meanwhile, also vary from one country to another, making it essential to have sound local knowledge. In addition, political problems such as wars or health scares such as the Ebola virus will inevitably affect transport, Marchessaux warns.
Providers such as Bolloré Africa Logistics, with their local expertise in airlines and routes, have developed knowledge that compensates for the lack of air transport capacity in some regions of Africa, resulting from both remote destinations or from sudden or unexpected events like the outbreak of the Ebola virus.
Aviation has the potential to make an important contribution to Africa’s continued economic growth because it can help open markets and facilitate trade. “We are using our knowledge to create new air transport routes into Africa and that is good for the country and our customers,” says Marchessaux.