The new initiative will strengthen aviation’s contribution to Africa’s economic and social development and improve connectivity, safety and reliability for passengers and shippers. 

New International Air Transport Association (IATA) initiative Focus Africa will align private and public stakeholders to deliver measurable progress in six areas, the organisation said.

“Africa accounts for 18% of the global population, but just 2.1% of air transport activities (combined cargo and passenger). Closing that gap, so that Africa can benefit from the connectivity, jobs and growth that aviation enables, is what Focus Africa is all about,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.

Infrastructure constraints, high costs, lack of connectivity, regulatory impediments, slow adoption of global standards and skills shortages affect the customer experience and are all contributory factors to African airlines’ viability and sustainability. The continent’s carriers suffered cumulative losses of $3.5bn for 2020-2022.  IATA estimates further losses of $213m in 2023.

Delivering on Africa’s opportunities

Sustainably connecting the African continent internally and to global markets with air transport is critical for bringing people together and creating economic and social development opportunities. It will also support the realisation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for Africa of lifting 50 million people out of poverty by 2030, IATA stressed. Pre-COVID aviation supported 7.7 million jobs and $63bn in economic activity in Africa. Projections are for demand to triple over the next two decades.

“Africa stands out as the region with the greatest potential and opportunity for aviation. The Focus Africa initiative renews IATA’s commitment to supporting aviation on the continent. As the incoming Chair of the IATA Board of Governors, and the first from Africa since 1993, I look forward to ensuring that this initiative gets off to a great start and delivers benefits that are measurable,” said Yvonne Makolo, CEO of RwandAir and first female Chair of the IATA Board of Governors (2023-2024).


Six critical areas
"The limiting factors on Africa’s aviation sector are fixable. The potential for growth is clear. And the economic boost that a more successful African aviation sector will deliver has been witnessed in many economies already. With Focus Africa, stakeholders are uniting to deliver on six critical focus areas that will make a positive difference. We’ll measure success and will need to hold each other accountable for the results,” said Walsh.

The six focus areas are:

  • Safety: to improve operational safety through a data driven, collaborative programme to reduce safety incidents and accidents, in the air and on the ground
  • Infrastructure: to facilitate the growth of efficient, secure, and cost-effective aviation infrastructure
  • Connectivity: to promote the liberalisation of intra-African market access through the Single African Air Transport Market
  • Finance and distribution: to accelerate the implementation of secure, effective and cost-efficient financial services and adoption of modern retailing standards
  • Sustainability: to assist Africa’s air transport industry to achieve the industry’s “Net Zero by 2050” emissions targets
  • Future skills: to promote aviation-related career paths and ensure a steady supply of diverse and suitably skilled talent.


A new type of initiative
“Partnerships will differentiate the outcome of Focus Africa from previous efforts to stimulate Africa’s development with air transport.  By partnering, stakeholders will effectively pool their resources, research, expertise, time and funding to support the common goals of the six work areas,” said Kamil Al Awadhi, IATA regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East. 

The partners will be announced in Addis Ababa on June 20-21, when they will officially launch the Focus Africa initiative and provide further details on each task area.

Image: Rabat-Salé Airport, courtesy of ONDA