Aviation is a key part of the economic lifeblood of Africa. It supports 6.9 million jobs and $80 billion in GDP. It carries people and goods across and outside the continent, and brings in economic investment, tourism, trade and aid.
Aviation in Africa is promising. Over the next two decades African aviation is forecast to grow at 5.4 percent a year—nearly tripling in size. The continent’s top ten fastest growing markets are growing at an even faster 8% per year. Even though many are rising from a small base, it points to a very bright future for aviation in Africa.
Currently, 76.6 million passengers board aircraft to from, or within Africa each year. If our projections are correct that will grow to 300 million by 2035. But many promises of progress in Africa have not been realized. And we cannot take for granted this growth—and the economic and social benefits it will bring.
What are the risks to growth?
The biggest policy question mark is the Yamoussoukro Decision which aims to liberalize intra-Africa travel. Africa will not realize its potential unless it is more fully implemented. On top of that are requirements for investments in aircraft and airports, and air navigation services. And then there is the question of ensuring a future workforce with the right skills to run airlines in a competitive environment, to fly and maintain the aircraft, to manage the airport systems, provide air navigation services, and so on.
According to Airbus in the next 20 years, the world’s airlines will require 25,000 new aircraft in addition to the 17,000 in the existing global fleet. Globally, we expect to see a requirement for half a million new technicians and engineers to maintain and look after these aircraft and over 350,000 pilots to fly them. About 1,000 of these new aircraft will be destined for Africa. The ability of African aviation to reach its full potential will hinge upon the creation of a professional, skilled and sustainable workforce.
There are good private-sector initiatives underway and IATA is committed to continuous training through the IATA Airline Training Fund in Africa. Already this year 2,484 young African aviation professionals have benefitted from this. However, to achieve the scale and sustainability required to meet the skills need for future growth, a more collaborative and concerted effort is required.
While the industry is best suited to addressing the current specialist knowledge and skills gaps, we are dependent on African governments to put in place the right environment to create the future talent that the sector needs.
Today’s economies are increasingly knowledge-based and technology-driven. New technologies are spawning new ways of working and as such we cannot easily predict what tomorrow’s jobs will entail. What we do know is we have to prepare the next generation with the capacity for lifelong learning so they are able to adapt to what will be a rapidly evolving economy.
This means we need education systems to produce significantly greater numbers of young people with both the technical and IT skills the industry needs as well as the life skills necessary to be employable.
If Africa can meet the future demand for highly skilled aviation roles, it will benefit from increased GDP growth, investment in future job creation, and ultimately, enjoy its slice of the prosperity that aviation can generate. Thinking big, there is even potential for Africa to become a global aviation training center—meeting its market needs and exporting skilled labor to other parts of the world that are growing.