As at 2018, it was reported that intra-African flights were up to 45% more expensive than flying in other regions. Up till now, many people report paying almost the same amount in ticket fares for flights to nearby African countries when compared flights to Dubai or London for instance. This seems ridiculous at first glance. The distance is much shorter, so why should flights be so expensive?
However, distance is not the only determinant to the cost of flight tickets. This article will explore five major likely reasons why flights between African countries are so expensive.
1. High taxes and charges on airlines
Governments of most African countries impose extremely high – higher than anywhere else in the world – tariffs and landing fees on airlines. Airlines then have no other choice than to transfer this cost to passengers through higher ticket fares. About 50% of ticket fares go to the cost of the flight itself while the remaining 50 goes to the government in the form of taxes and charges. For other regions where this is not a problem, it allows them have more competitive ticket prices.
2. Low load factors
African airlines annually report relatively low load factors. The load factor of an airline is the number of passengers it carries compared to its carrying capacity. The carrying capacity is fixed as the number of seats in an aircraft is fixed, but the number of people who book seats varies. If the load factors are low while the costs of operating the flight remains the same, the burden of the costs will have to be shared nonetheless and result in higher ticket fares.
3. Low yield passengers
A lot of African countries are laden with slow economic growth as shown by their low GDPs per capita. This reflects in purchasing power of citizens as fewer people can afford premium travel, i.e., first and business class options. The mix of the yield determines how airlines set their fares, so if there are fewer people booking first and business class tickets, airlines will have to set the base (economy) fare at relatively higher rates to cover their costs.
4. Fuel and oil price hikes
Most African countries are more affected by fuel price hikes than other world regions. Just last month, the severe fuel scarcity in Nigeria almost forced local airlines to stop operating flights as they would have to make the fares ridiculously expensive to cover the costs.
5. Closed airspaces
Several sovereign African states have refused to implement an open sky policy that allows airlines from other African countries to fly freely to or over their territories. To put this in perspective: flying from Ghana to Nigeria would involve passing over both Benin Republic and Togo. If Togo does not have an open sky agreement with Nigeria, Nigerian airlines would have to divert to a longer flight path to get to Ghana and this would increase the cost of flight. This issue is worsened when airlines from one African region to another and there are several countries between who may not have open skies agreements with the airlines’ host countries.
All these factors combine to form high operating costs for African airlines, and consequently, high ticket fares for passengers. With more economic growth and government cooperation in the continent, intra-African flight should become easier and cheaper in coming years.