Africa risk of the day

…seems entirely manageable.  Here is The Economist:

Flying on a passenger jet in Africa is now about as safe as it would have been to board a European or American one about two decades ago. And the best African airlines are almost as safe as their global counterparts, says the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Propeller planes still lag somewhat behind…


The problem isn't dying in a plane crash, it's the bribery and corruption involved with passports and visas and baggage once you land. Good look dealing with airport "security" and "customs" without lots of cash.

Just refuse. Pull out a book if necessary. I always have a book on hand for such purposes when going through any border known for such problems. Sometimes you even have to read it for a couple minutes.

Yes, that's true in some countries (DRC, most especially) But I really think this is mostly a myth. I've traveled extensively in Senegal, Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Kenya, and Tanzania. Extensively as in 5-6 trips per year for work over the last 5 years. And I've never had to pay a bribe or really had any problem, except once sort of in Lagos. The airports in Nairobi, Dar, and Accra for example, are completely professional at this point. Sometimes you have to wait on the line for a long time, but you fill out the forms, do what they say, get the right visa in advance, there are never any problems.

I think the increasing professionalization of the airports has gone hand in hand with these improvements in the airline quality.

Planes older than Western planes two decades ago are rare and big government in the West for the past over half century has made commercial aircraft very safe.

The question is why Africa does not have its own aircraft industry, using cheaper labor and small government to build cheaper planes so cheaper airlines can provide cheaper air service in Africa?

Is high wage over regulated industry cheaper than low wage low regulation industry?

It's hard to make advanced planes and they just won freedom a couple generations ago. Start with cars maybe? (Chinese investments in Nigeria SEZs are doing this). Or fabric of international quality?

Ever heard of a Taiwanese-made airliner?


Didn't think so.

You need a trained workforce in multiple trades, like metalworking and electricians. Or were you thinking about making planes out of bamboo, canvas, and imported motorcycle engines?

Metalworking for planes is overrated...

plane-making isn't labor intensive, so they have no comparative advantage.

You're seriously asking why Africa can't make airplanes? LOL

Actually, they do make airplanes in Africa: and

Even Japan doesn't manufacture its own passenger jets. It's a very, very difficult industry to break into without enormous amounts of capital and highly experienced engineers.

The capital cost of aircraft is far from the largest cost in operating an airline. Until recently, fuel has been the largest cost, followed by labor. And although labor may cost less in Africa than elsewhere, fuel costs will be no lower.

Bringing a jetliner to market is insanely costly, with practically all the cost going to highly skilled labor (for design, development, fabrication, testing and regulatory approvals). Such labor may be less costly in Africa than elsewhere, but I doubt it's all that much less expensive as those with such skills will find many high-wage countries willing to accept them as immigrants.

Companies which build airliners must be well capitalized, as the development costs are up-front yet the return on investment will not be seen for many, many years (i.e., breakeven often occurs only after the thousandth plane has been delivered). Where would an African company find such capital and, if it had it, would it be able to attract the necessary skilled labor to bring product to market?

BUT even it could be done, the airliner business is global ( and producing airliners only for sale in less-regulated markets doesn't seem promising, as one needs volume sales to recoup one's investment in development).

If an African company were somehow able to sell airliners of adequate quality at lower prices than those offered by the incumbents, these airplanes would be sold to all the world's airlines and thus African airlines would have no cost advantage.

Counterintuitively, highly skilled labour is MORE expensive in Africa than most places. Most people with high skills would rather not live somewhere with few modern amenities, and thus you have to pay them a major premium to attract them to live and work there.

The purchase cost of an airplane is a small fraction of the cost of ownership. In this Quora answer, I guesstimated the revenue generation of a 737-800 in use by Southwest Airlines to be approximately $1.1 billion over the course of its lifespan, using some relatively conservative numbers but based on Southwest's load factors and utilization- and this theoretical calculation still left 1/3 of the expected operational life of the airplane unused, so it could be sold or leased at that point in order to recoup more of the original costs:

Yes, but when will the United States misplaced/lost baggage incidents come up to par with African rates?

Slightly misleading and poor article, which is a standard for The Economist these days anyway.

Words like "the best African airlines"...Hmm. Yes I would have no doubt that the best African airlines are almost as safe, since that's likely to be South African airways. But that doesn't mean anything. Also not explained is how they are measuring all these metrics. Based on airlines based in Africa? Operating in Africa? Flying to a destination in Africa? These are all different things.

Also the author forgets to mention the main reason for all this: expansion of Western/ME airlines into Africa. Fastjet, which the article mentions, is a European company operating planes in Africa. Hence the improvements.

Yeah, nice spot. I doubt this Economist stat. I've heard most of the plane wrecks in Africa are near the airport (consistent with theory about takeoff and landing being the most dangerous times) and the wrecks are often not even cleared except scraped off the runway and deposited on the side of the airport where they remain as rusting hulks for years.

As for corruption at the airport, also common in the Third World, Google "Manila airport bullet scam".

The article does tell where the statistic comes from: passenger jet planes independent of operating company (no matter if private or government owned & and HQ location). Also 20% of passenger traffic in and out of Africa is done through an African carrier.

People tend to forget how big is Africa. For example, even if Ethiopia is relatively poor and only a very small % of people can pay plane tickets, the country is around 100 million people. One of the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner I saw was on CDG airport with Ethiopian Airlines colors . The company ordered at least 14 A350-900 on late 2015

So, for every 1pc of people that becomes middle class in Africa air travel demand will grow. The potential is there, who is going to sell them mobile phones, cars and plane travel?

Yes, but if 20% of travel is done by African airlines, but they are measuring flights originating or operated by any airline, then the improvement in safety isn't surprising since its foreign European or ME airlines doing the flying.

And as someone pointed out below, intra-Africa travel is still mostly done on propeller driven aircraft, where the safety isn't as good. So not much of a surprise, or much of an insight from The Economist. At least, its misleading to attribute the safety improvements to African institutional/infrastructure improvements.

"intra-Africa travel is still mostly done on propeller driven aircraft"

I'm pretty sure that this is not true, partly for the fact you mention that it's less safe, and partly because prop planes cannot carry very many people. The only reason for prop planes is for executives et al to reach remote minerals extraction sites and for tourists, no?

@Nathan W, relax. Don't talk down other people when all you got is "I'm pretty sure is not true".

Just to start "the only reason for prop planes......" is not mining executives and tourists, it's the economy. In general, turboprop planes are more economical (fuel efficiency) to operate in short distances (less than 800 Km-500 miles). In some cases where winning 20-30 min over that distance with a jet plane is worth due to high passenger traffic,a jet plane is used. When you consider the average speeds you can reach by car or train, turboprops make a lot of sense.

This is a good point. South African Airways, Kenyan Airways are major multi-national carriers at this point, with significant external financing (at least that's my understanding). They are members of the major carrier alliances, routinely code share their flights with American carriers, etc. So yes, if they're what's driving the higher safety numbers, that's not that surprising.

They caveat out the "propeller planes", but that's still unfortunately still the majority of intra-national (as opposed to inter) African air travel. As I noted above, I travel within Africa a lot and then international jets to get to and from capital cities are not my concern. The standards there are basically as good as anywhere at this point. The scary shit is when you have to fly from a national capital to a smaller regional capital within a country. And that's almost always on a non-jet, and can still be harrowing...

Flying Kenya airways tomorrow. Seemingly there are/were lions loose in nairobi. Risk for the day: avoid the lions.

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