Aviation recovery gathers pace as the world opens up

What you need to know:

  • After being ravaged by the impact of Covid-19, the aviation industry rebounded during the 2021/22 financial year to reach 84.9 percent of its pre-pandemic performance levels, according to the latest Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority data

Dar es Salaam. After struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic for over two years, latest analyses of the aviation sector performance reveal clear signs of a strong recovery in air passenger traffic characterised by increasing airline confidence.

During the last financial year that ended on June 30, 2022, the sector, which was hit hard by Covid-19, reached 84.9 percent of the pre-Covid era performance as traffic remained in an upward trend yearly, according to the latest data of the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA).

The data reveal that the number of passengers who used Tanzania’s airports during the 2021/22 financial year reached 4.5 million, compared to 5.3 million that was posted during the 2018/2019 financial year.

During the last financial year, domestic passenger traffic accounted for 60 percent of the total traffic, with international passengers commanding the remaining.

TCAA director general Hamza Johari attributed last financial year’s promising performance to travellers’ increased confidence triggered by relaxation of travel restrictions.

“The period (2021/22 financial year) was a time when countries started opening their skies by removing or decreasing travel restrictions to pave a way for traffic to return to normal,” Mr Johari told The Citizen a few days ago.

Like most countries across the globe, Tanzania suspended all international passenger flights in April 2020 due to Covid-19, before re-opening its skies for both scheduled and non-scheduled flights in May of the same year.

Although when it comes to passenger traffic, the industry is still operating below the pre-crisis level, if compared to the 2020/21 financial year, last financial year’s performance represents an improvement.

During the last financial year, the number of passengers increased by half to 4.5 million, well above from 3 million posted in the preceding year.

These figures suggest that things are now improving for the better in Tanzania, a country which recorded its first case in mid-March 2020 as it was not spared by the pandemic.

Based on the domestic market shares, Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) and Precision Air contributed more to the last financial year’s performance.

TCAA data show that ATCL’s market share was quoted at 52.9 percent in 2021, putting it at the top as the market leader.

It was followed by Precision Air at 22.8 percent, Auric Air at 10.3 percent, Coastal Travel at three percent, As Salaam Air at 2.8 percent and other airlines shared 8.6 percent of the market.

Although the pandemic hit airlines harder than any other aviation sub-sector, it was not the case for the air cargo business.

During the last financial year, demand outperformed pre-crisis levels and experienced an additional 39.1 per cent increase.

The industry saw cargo business grow to 33,925.7 metric tonnes compared to 24,389.7 metric tonnes recorded in the 2018/19 fiscal year.

International cargo accounted for a lion’s share at 82.7 percent of the total cargo handled during the last financial year, with the rest being handled domestically.

International cargo dominance was triggered by soft Covid-19 restrictions in the sub-sector.

With the current performance trend, Swissport Tanzania chief executive officer Mrisho Yassin cautiously sees the light at the end of the tunnel.

“The current business trend is good. We need to pray that the Covid-19 pandemic won’t be coming back,” said Mr Yassin, whose company accounted for over 80 percent of the ground handling business.

He expressed his pleasure that the cargo business sub-sector was now operating above the pre-Covid era (2018/19) and thus generating more income.

To make it sustainable, the Swissport boss emphasised on the need for marketing business opportunities that the country is endowed with, and that is what the sixth phase government has been doing.

This, he added, should go in tandem with making the business environment even better to retain the existing investors and attract new ones.

“We need to make the country active again in all angles,” recommended Mr Yassin.

During the last financial year, aircraft movement on the other hand, was performing at 72.6 percent of the pre-Covid era.

Domestic aircraft movements accounted for 80.8 percent of total movements, with the rest being commanded by international aircraft movements.

Nas-Dar Airco’s corporate affairs head Evans Mlelwa said to them the industry’s good performance meant more business and so growth.

This in turn, he expounded, will spar more investments in the industry, boost competition and thus delivery of quality services.

“The current industry’s performance is a healthy sign of the sector’s growth,” pointed out Mr Mlelwa.

“The industry’s growth calls for the regulator to have a third eye to enhance monitoring mechanisms and engagement with industry’s players.”

He commended TCAA for its frequent engagement with stakeholders to discuss challenges that the later were grappling with and chart way forward.

Tanzania Airports Authority (TAA) director general Mussa Mbura attributed the industry’s good performance to the continual efforts by states to implement the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Civil Aviation Organisation (Icao) recommendations.

The recommendations that include elimination of travel restrictions by many countries which were formerly imposed as a measure to control the Covid-19 pandemic, acts as a triggering factor towards the ongoing traffic recovery.

He also linked the positive performance with recovery on trade and tourism economic activities.

Tourism, which accounts for over 17 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), saw the number of international visitors drop to 620,867 in 2020 from 1.5 million in 2019. But, from 2021 to date things have been improving for the better as the country is experiencing a flow of tourists in the country, thanks to extensive marketing of the country’s tourist attractions.

“Our latest analysis of the aviation sector performance reveals clear signs of a strong recovery in the aviation sector, a trend buoyed by increasing airline confidence due to relaxation of Covid-19 restriction measures,” Mr Mbura told The Citizen.

Aviation expert with 47 years of experience John Njawa commended the handsome performance, saying the latest air transport trends illustrated encouraging recovery and higher growth.

“These recovery indicators are highly encouraging,” stressed Mr Njawa, noting further: “This is a positive development that the industry needs to maintain.”

“And for this to be sustainable, every airline needs to be aggressive in pricing, marketing and grabbing opportunities.”

By the time The Citizen went to press, the Tanzania Air Operators Association (Taoa) was not available for comment and efforts to get views from individual airlines proved futile.

The Covid-19 pandemic, whose first case was announced in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, hit airlines harder than any other aviation subsector across the globe.

Tanzania, which recorded its first case in mid-March, was not spared by the pandemic, but things are now improving and the available data could attest to this.

With the country’s performance, Tanzania has a reason to smile as its impressive performance came at a time when the Icao says the pace of recovery in Africa, Asia and Pacific regions continues to be more challenging.

Icao secretary general Juan Carlos Salazar said in a statement in May this year that a recovery of full seat capacity is expected in Africa by 2024-25 and Asia and Pacific by 2023-24.

However, he said Icao’s latest analysis of global air traffic reveals clear signs of a strong global recovery in air traffic. This, he said, was characterised by increasing airline confidence and a range of regional air connectivity and air travel facilitation improvements.

Going by Icao’s data, the number of air passengers carried from January to April 2022 increased by 65 percent compared to the same period in 2021, while aircraft flight departures increased by at least 30 percent.

Airline seat capacity grew by 32 percent during the same period, and with continuing supportive conditions for increases in air travel demand expected, Icao is projecting a stronger overall rate of recovery this year compared to last.

“There is still much to be done, however, and I look forward to the point where we can announce the full recoveries of all world regions,” said Mr Salazar.

Icao’s ongoing efforts to work with governments and industry to reconnect the world is expected to get another boost this September, when the 41st Icao Assembly will be held with in-person attendance of the civil aviation delegates from the United Nation’s agency’s 193 strong member states.

“Icao has established ‘Innovation’ and ‘Resilience’ as the co-themes for this year’s Assembly, and we expect some important decisions from States on how to prioritise current efforts to digitise a contactless travel experience, and to promote more of the latest innovations in aircraft design and propulsion now taking place,” Mr Salazar underscored.