West African Air Travel in 2024

With tourism finally preparing to take off in parts of West Africa after several false starts, the region’s aviation industry is expected to witness growth, especially in niche markets.

Image credit: Shutterstock / JoaoCachapa

For years, we have heard about West Africa’s tourism industry being on the verge of an exponential growth.

Industry insiders in the mid-2010s would often opine that Lagos, Dakar, or Accra were going to be the Next Big Thing in African tourism.

And though the travel sector in Nigeria, Senegal, and Ghana did see some growth before 2020 and the lockdowns, the sector’s performance never quite amounted to a miracle some had hoped to witness.

The year 2024, however, may mark a turning point in West African tourism.

This will be within the context of the relative prosperity of some parts of West Africa, namely Ghana and Senegal.

One sector in particular stands to gain a lot from the rise of West African tourism: aviation.

The aviation and hospitality sectors have long had a symbiotic relationship, together forming the main pillars of the tourism industry.

As more people are heading to West Africa in 2024, more flight seats will be needed to carry them.

There will be also regional tourists coming in from other parts of the continent, who will raise the demand for short haul flights.

Airlines operating in major West African tourism hubs such as Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria are responding to the opportunity in different ways.

Senegal and strategic partnerships

Launched in 2018, the state-owned airline of Senegal managed to increase its destinations to 22 by this year.

These operations have not been free of challenges for Air Senegal.

In 2023, the airline had to eliminate its routes to Barcelona and Milan, citing low demand and the high cost of airport services in Europe.

It may be the case that the young flag carrier has made this decision based on a strategic plan to focus on African routes, where the majority of visitors to Senegal come from.

Another development for Air Senegal in 2023 was the penning of an MoU with Royal Air Maroc—a major African market player.

“Air Senegal said in a statement the carriers would seek to increase connections and provide more options for passengers,” according to Reuters, which added that some “areas of cooperation include aircraft maintenance, chartering and handling.”

As a result of the joint operations, Senegal can now receive more incoming passengers via Casablanca, especially from the Francophone world.

Côte d’Ivoire and the expansion of long haul arrivals

Côte d’Ivoire is served by several regional and international airlines as well as its own Air Côte d’Ivoire which focuses mostly on the short haul segment of the market. Turkish Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines are competing for the international long haul market.

The year 2023 marked the first nonstop flight to the US since 2020.

Operated by Ethiopian Airlines, the flight connects Abidjan to New York’s JFK international airport.

Air Côte d’Ivoire, meanwhile, has launched a few long haul flights of its own, including a ten-hour-long flight to Johannesburg in South Africa.

The airline has informed the media that the new long haul route “will make it easier for business to happen in a continent that is economically integrating” and “is open for business.”

No less importantly, the new routes are likely to contribute to the recovery of Côte d’Ivoire’s tourism sector, which is determined to regain its 2.2 million arrivals registered in 2019, which dropped to 500,000 in 2020 due to lockdowns but has not fully bounced back yet.

Ghana: licensing reform and building a worthy flag carrier

Ghana’s aviation authorities have taken the initiative by facilitating the licensing process for airlines wishing to operate in the country. In 2023, the rising aviation company, McDan Aviation acquired a new license for as a commercial air carrier—a process which would take quite some time previously in the bulky bureaucracy of most West African nations.

The Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), however, is now showing more openness to the idea of new airlines entering the nation’s market.

The most notable recipient of a new license from the GCAA will be the newly-established national airline GhanaAirlines.

The new airline will replace the ill-fated Ghana International Airlines, which ceased all operations in 2010 due to financial reasons only five years after its inaugural flight in 2005.

According to sources familiar with the matter, the GCAA is about to grant an air operator license to GhanaAirlines, which means the new air line will likely become fully operational some time in 2024.

Nigeria and the rise of low-cost airlines

Nigerians and foreigners traveling to the country have long been complaining about high airfares. Pressuring foreign operators to increase the number of flight seats has failed to solve the problem. “With the increase in capacity, which makes more seats available for domestic air travel, industry observers are of the view that the relatively low demand should have pushed down the fares,” observed This Day in 2023.

But it did not! Nigerian aviation authorities have been wondering lately if resorting to budget airlines can solve the problem.

A number of so called low-cost airlines have been launched in Nigeria in recent years, essentially drawing on the same business model that has redefined budget air travel in Europe.

However, some traditional airlines have also been trying to adopt low-cost strategies. Air Peace, for instance, is one of the airlines trying to serve the budget aviation market.

In November, 2023, Air Peace applied for slots at Dubai’s DXB just a month after it received the permits to fly to the UK. The routes to London and Dubai will effectively connect Lagos to Europe, Middle East, and thereby Asia at a lower cost than ever.

Final note

Although it is still too early to make a judgment, it is certain that times are changing in West African aviation. There is some momentum wherever you look.

Young national carriers such as Nigeria Air, Air Senegal, Air Côte d’Ivoire, and GhanaAirlines have ramped up their operations and placed orders to expand their fleet.

Regional routes, meanwhile, are being served by smaller airlines such as Ghana’s Passion Air or Nigerian budget carriers.

All this is helped by daring reforms in the regulatory framework, such as the proposed Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), which could lead to a reduction in operational costs through resource pooling.