Africa’s airline capacity to exceed 2019 levels by 10% this year

IBA, the aviation market intelligence and consultancy company, predicts the African market will continue to see some growth.

Image: Marcelle Nethersole

It expects airline capacity thought to trend at 110% of 2019 available seat kilometres (ASKs) by Q3 2023. 

Capacity recovery within Africa reached 103% of 2019 ASK levels in April 2023, compared to the global average of 95%. This makes the region the third to surpass pre-pandemic capacity levels this year behind Latin America and North America. 

Airlines are continuing to increase capacity to Africa with Q2 ASKs up 23% on last year according to data from IBA Insight, the leading aviation intelligence platform. 

The African airlines with the highest seat capacity in Q2 2023 are led by Ethiopian with 12,664m ASKs - an increase of 61% on the previous year, followed by Egyptair with 4,749m ASKs - an increase of 23%, and then Royal Air Maroc with 3,513m ASKs - up 28% compared to 2022. 

Looking at inter-regional travel in Q2 2023, seat capacity to Africa from Europe was up 19% to 32bn year-on-year and up 17% from the Middle East to 14bn. Both Asia Pacific and North America were at 4bn, representing year-on-year increases of 180% and 25% respectively, while Latin America increased to 0.3bn - a 38% year-on-year growth. Within Africa, seat capacity in Q2 2023 was at 24bn – an increase of 19% since 2022. 

IBA predicts that African airline traffic will recover to pre-Covid levels by 2024, and that it will surpass 140m passengers carried by 2030. 

A positive improvement in airline economics is also forecast. African airlines were on-average unprofitable before the pandemic and posted an estimated cumulative loss of US$638million in 2022. However, year-on-year, revenue passenger kilometres (RPKs) and ASKs grew by 82% and 53% respectively in 2022, with further improvement expected in 2023 that will have a positive impact on airline revenues. However, some of the cost headwinds are likely to persist suppressing profitability for a while yet.

Looking at aircraft orders by African airlines, the Boeing 737 MAX significantly outperforms the Airbus A320neo in the narrowbody segment, with the 737 MAX taking a 93% order share. The picture is slightly more balanced in the widebody segment with the Airbus A350 accounting for 22 orders and the Boeing 787 for 12. 

The largest overall orderbooks are held by Ethiopian (30), Air Peace (18) and Arik Air (16). 

Strong growth in narrowbody aircraft is expected to drive the overall size of the fleet of all African airlines to 1,750 in 2030, an increase from 1,423 in 2023, representing a 3.2% CAGR.