Landlocked Africa Seeks Competitive Rates and Sustained Air Cargo Capacity
Intra-African trade will boost air freight and associated handling opportunities. Picture – NAC2000
An increasingly competitive landscape and high airfreight costs have put pressure on airfreight in some landlocked regions of Africa.
Most African shipments are perishable commodities, but for mining economies such as Zambia, which is landlocked in southern Africa, mining-related materials as a percentage of total imports have declined in recent years.
Generally speaking, there has been a steady decline in imports and exports since 2018 in the country. Imports at the end of 2021 are down 25% and exports down 15% over the same period, according to data from NAC2000 Corporation, the only registered and ISAGO-certified airport ground handling provider in Zambia.
“We have observed that due to the lack of capacity and the prohibitive cost of airfreight, we have seen mining equipment being progressively sourced and stored by sea and road via depots in South Africa, and transported by truck in the region, with most non-emergency mining shipments sent by sea and road, let alone by air freight,” said Jonathan Lewis, Managing Director of NAC2000.
Additional data shows that imports fall from a ratio of 80% imports and 20% exports in 2018 to 70:30% respectively in 2021, mainly due to an increase in export volumes mainly of fruits, vegetables and flowers, mainly to the UK and EU and, to a lesser extent, regional shipments of live chicks and hatching eggs. Imports were mainly supported by an influx of pharmaceuticals and PPE due to the pandemic, but Covid vaccines remain in negligible volumes and have no significant impact on import figures.
With GDP across Africa set to double in 20 years, air travel will inevitably lead to increased trade, and as a result air cargo will benefit – but trade barriers between African countries have historically impeded progress. But now, with agreements such as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), there is hope for more intra-African trade.
Increased continental trade could foster a more competitive manufacturing sector to create opportunities for industries including air cargo and associated handling.
“My concern is the rate at which this will happen for air cargo regionally,” Mr Lewis said. “I think there is an opportunity to accelerate the pace of this trade and development through air freight, especially for perishable and time-sensitive goods.”
Mr. Lewis believed that the AfCFTA would have less impact on air cargo without the deliberate implementation of the Yamoussoukro (YD) decision and the development of more point-to-point routes in the region and the continent. “It would be beneficial for players in the air transport industry in Africa to participate in this planned movement of cargo with competitive fares, capacity and routes.”
Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa were the most affected in terms of capacity due to the flight restrictions that were imposed on the region at the start of the Covid Omicron Variant. Most cargo from Zambia is usually transported by passenger services with regular scheduled services operated by Ethiopian, Kenya Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways and SAA.
Typically, in the Zambian context, monthly passenger numbers increase by 25% in December each year, but following the Omicron variant flight restrictions, December 2021 saw a decline in aircraft handling, with a 36% drop in monthly passenger numbers, and overall 64% lower than pre-Covid passenger levels. Mr Lewis said freight had also been affected, down 15% in December from pre-Covid, but strikingly January 2022 was down 40%, to its lowest level in seven years.
Mr Lewis explained that costs were rising as players monopolized routes, drowning out the usual strong demand for perishable exports – but not the freight cost premium.
“Gut reactions are very dangerous for our export freight supply chain which sustains the perishables export industry. If damaged by an unworkable supply chain, it will take years to recover – or they could lose their businesses all together.
Looking ahead, Mr Lewis said the sector should aim for sustained and stable growth at manageable rates, otherwise the still important flora and horticulture export industry will face even more challenges. in the future.
|Courier, post, diplomatic courier||8%|
Of general cargo, about 4% is for the mining industry, such as spare parts and machine parts.
|Courier, post, diplomatic courier||1%|
Of general freight, about 0.2% relates to the mining industry.
Source: CAN 2000