Neels Blom Columnist

Passenger air traffic in Africa has risen sharply in October, up 7.5% year on year from a 3.6% increase in September, according to the International Air Transport Association’s (Iata’s) latest analysis of global demand.

The increase for Africa was slightly better than the aggregate year-on-year growth in global demand, which stood at 7.3% from a 6.6% increase in September.

Iata said airlines in all regions had recorded growth, with total capacity rising 6% and the load factor up one percentage point to 79.4%.

Iata measures traffic in what it calls revenue passenger kilometres, which reflects actual traffic as opposed to schedule-based data.

Iata did not provide a country breakdown, but said conditions in Africa’s two largest economies, SA and Nigeria, were still on divergent paths, with business confidence in Nigeria nearly at a three-year high, while confidence in SA was consistent with falling economic activity.

In September, SA’s state-owned airline SAA produced a loss of R2.1bn for the year to date. It has projected a R4bn loss for the 2018 financial year.

The growth in passenger numbers for SA (international and domestic) was expected to be between 3% and 4% a year for the next five years, according to projections by Airlines Association of Southern Africa.

Continent-wide, capacity rose 3.4%, and load factor jumped 2.7 percentage points to 70.9%, Iata said.

Earlier this year, Paul Steele, the senior vice-president of external relations at Iata, told the Airlines Association of Southern Africa that the region, and SA in particular, was at risk of missing an important opportunity.

"African airlines are not in a healthy financial state. This year, while the global aviation industry will make a profit of $31.4bn, African airlines will lose $0.1bn," he said.

Iata said October’s performance was a strong recovery after the hurricane-related disruptions in September and that domestic and international growth was largely in balance.

"As expected, the recent severe weather in the Americas region had only a temporary impact on the healthy travel demand we have seen this year, and we remain on course for another year of above-trend growth," said Iata CEO Alexandre de Juniac.

The data showed Asia-Pacific airlines leading all regions with traffic growth of 10.3% from the comparable period a year earlier, and up from an 8.7% rise in September.

"Demand for air travel remains strong as we head into the holiday travel season, and signs point to the broad-based economic upturn continuing into 2018, which is good news for demand for air travel," said De Juniac.

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