x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Air charters to Africa flying high

Dubai-based Air Charter International says it see an increasing number of charter requests in its Africa segment.

As some African countries clock record growth that puts them in league with China, one sector in the UAE to benefit has been the air charter industry.

Air Charter International (ACI), based in Dubai, says the number of charter requests from Africa has risen at a fast clip.

"We have an increase in executive jets requests of approximately 15 per cent per year [in the past] three years [and most come] from the oil and gas industry as well as from wealthy individuals who need to travel quickly, at short notice, and to attend meetings in Africa," said Stuart Wheeler, who founded the company in 1994.

The company matches clients with aircraft to fly executives, oversized cargo or medical and other large-scale evacuations, using its database of operators worldwide with 5,000 aircraft.

ACI works increasingly "with outsized charters, executive jets and other special requests for the oil and gas, mining and reconstruction industries in Nigeria, Angola and Sudan", he said.

Airlines, too, are reporting an increase in activity in Africa. In the first quarter of this year, Emirates Airline added two new routes to its list of 19 destinations in Africa with flights to Lusaka, the Zambian capital, and Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. Etihad Airways launched a new service to Nairobi and will launch a route to Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, next month. And African passenger airlines reported a 7 per cent increase in demand in April, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Excluding South Africa, which accounts for more than a third of Sub-Saharan Africa's GDP, the region's growth was 5.9 per cent, according to the World Bank in April, making it one of the fastest-growing developing regions.

Among the Sub-Saharan region's fast-growing economies last year were resource-rich countries such as Ghana, Mozambique and Nigeria, as well as Rwanda and Ethiopia. All of them posted growth rates of at least 7 per cent.

Overall capital flows to the region rose by US$8 billion (Dh29.38bn) last year to $48.2bn, according to the World Bank. Foreign direct investment, which accounts for about 77 per cent of all capital flows to Sub-Saharan Africa, contributed about 83 per cent of the increase.

In March, General Electric announced it would invest in Nigeria's power sector although the amount was not revealed.

Charter requests also reflect China's heavy investments in Africa.

ACI receives requests for charters to Africa mainly from the Middle East followed Chinese companies, which make up a growing proportion along with European and African businesses and elsewhere.

"Most of the time it is people travelling to regional offices, or it is businessmen meeting suppliers and clients," Mr Wheeler said.

ssahoo@thenational.ae