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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Africa's growing aviation market

Interesting perspectives from Kenya Airways CEO on an expanding African market still inhibited by failure to implement the Yamoussoukro Declaration. Kenya Airways of course is a good example of a successful public private partnership. The successful Ethiopians Airlines is a good model of how to run a parastatal! In both cases some element of government participation has helped rather than hindered the airlines surge on the continent. Food for thought!


  1. I think that the growth of aviation on Africa will boost overall tourism and uplift the economy. Soon there will be flights from African countries similar to that of flights to manila.

  2. Aviation is key to tourism, and low weight low volume exports like fresh cut flowers for the European market, and . . . I'm lost. Rail. Zambia borders on too many countries it has no means of exporting to or through. If one doesn't have a seaport, one must have rail (or canals) there is nothing else that can move enough material to keep a modern economy connected to the modern economy. Aviation is wonderful for moving people around, but nobody will be moving except for tourists if Zambia cannot establish a long term export strategy not based solely on current copper prices. For a landlocked economy especially, it is important to remember that it is cheaper to ship downhill. When you ship by air you give that advantage away.

    Certainly bring the tourists, make it easier to come and go in general, for diaspora to visit family, for family to visit diaspora and see more of the world, for domestic business to interface more easily with their global counterparts. Aviation is good. But rail is lifeblood. Any Zambian who vandalizes or sabotages a rail line is killing their own grandchildren. Aviation is the quick, expensive (but therefore with "prestige" attached), seemingly easy solution, just fly away like birds. It will never be at the core of transport unless/until the heavy lift dirigible is developed for practical use.

    The single most efficient method of moving a tonne of material is an elevator, because one can use counterweights to balance the load, and can then literally move it with a human finger if you are willing to go through the precise balancing exercise. A simple electric (or manual) winch is the more common method. For horizontal movement it is really hard to beat a canal (the main constraints on canal efficiency tend to be sheer volume of traffic), because one can use buoyancy almost as effectively as vertically balanced counterweights. The seasonal nature of rainfall and flooding makes canals less than ideal for most heavy transport needs in Zambia, which brings us to rail. Many problems, lots of up front investment, but I know of no country that has regretted investing in rail decades afterwards (I would be delighted to learn of an exception to this rule if anyone knows of one).

    As far as I can tell the main thing that has hampered rail infrastructure development in Africa (apart from the sheer investment cost, but that didn't stop the hydro projects), has been the ease with which violently rebellious groups can dangerously disable them, rendering them useless in times of military conflict. As far as I can tell this is not a major problem or concern in Zambia, and it is more than unlikely that the Rhodesians will be making a comeback any time soon. China has added over 40 cities to its high speed passenger service in just the last couple of years, (yes, they got a bit ahead of themselves on being faster than everyone else with more experience, and have apparently learned the lesson), but long term aviation will only grow where rail is not the better alternative.

    It is not unreasonable to expect that Zambian aerospace has ample room to grow quite spectacularly for a decade or more, however if that happens at the expense of rail system development, then Zambia will find itself bypassed by the majority of Africa to Africa travel (and more importantly in some ways, bulk transport), much as they are by ship-bourne traffic today.


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