Dubai Air Show

Bizav OEMs Flock To Africa

 - November 15, 2013, 2:30 PM
The rugged Pilatus PC-24 (above) can operate from short and unpaved runways, so may be ideal for the African market. Below: Business aircraft dominated the ramp display at the African Aerospace and Defence show held in Pretoria last year; a business aviation show is slated to be held in Marrakech next April.

While the business aviation world cautiously waits to see if the signs of recovery in the traditional markets of Europe and North America bear fruit, the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are looking elsewhere to satisfy demand for growth. While the Far East and Latin America offer encouragement, it is Africa that offers the best opportunities for increased sales, but the continent also has its own unique set of challenges.

Fueled by a boom in the oil and gas industry, notably in West Africa, as well as an increase in mineral resource exploitation, business aviation in Africa is growing at a fast rate. However, it is a new business, and apart from well-established operations in South Africa (where around 40 percent of the continent’s fleet is based) and some countries in the north, such as Morocco, many of Africa’s business aviation companies are relatively small and young in experience.

Combined with an outsider’s perception of a poor safety record in Africa, this has made lenders nervous and, consequently, getting finance for aircraft is more difficult than it is in other markets. This is particularly true for smaller aircraft. Similarly, insurers are also understandably cautious concerning operations in Africa, and the resulting higher premiums raise the cost of ownership considerably compared to Europe, the Middle East or the United States.

Nevertheless, through the lobbying work of the African Business Aviation Association, attempts are under way to raise the profile of bizav on the continent. Just as AfBAA is lobbying hard with civil aviation authorities to create a more harmonized and conducive regulatory environment, it is also engaging with financiers and insurers. Demonstrating that many of Africa’s business aviation operators are highly professional companies with a healthy safety culture, and by trying to implement industry-wide standards, AfBAA is working hard to bring Africa in line with the rest of the world, with the aim of reducing ownership costs and to facilitate financing.

A Growth Market

Notwithstanding the difficulties associated with Africa, the demand for business jets is growing as a factor of the economic boom. Inward investment from many parts, but especially from China, is driving a growth in bizav that is far higher than in other regions. Bombardier has forecast that the number of large business jets operating on the continent will grow from a current level of 350 to 960 by 2020. Around 65 percent of the current fleet is more than 10 years old as well, and is in need of replacement.

Much of the growth in Africa will be in the medium/large aircraft market segment. “We’re seeing more demand for the Challenger/Global size of aircraft,” said Bombardier’s sales director for Africa, Robert Habjanic. “That’s to do with the size of Africa and the kind of cabin that customers are looking for.” The sheer geographic size of the continent itself, and the distances from the world’s main financial centers, means that long-range aircraft are essential. Regular long-haul flights go hand-in-hand with a need for larger, more comfortable cabins in aircraft that are well connected to allow business to continue while executives are airborne.

Gulfstream, too, has also capitalized on these factors with healthy sales in Africa. Its larger G450 and G550 have sold well in the region, and the larger G650 is also performing. By the end of this year three of the aircraft will be operational in Africa. Dassault has also traditionally sold well, especially in the government and head-of-state market. Operating in an environment where suitable diversion airfields are few and far between, the perceived safety gain of having a third engine (in the Falcon 50, 900 and 7X) is seen as a key discriminator for the Falcon in Africa.

Less popular on the continent are the very large aircraft from Airbus and Boeing, which remain largely restricted to government applications and a small number of very-high-net-worth individuals. Despite that, Airbus Corporate Jets has been promoting its range throughout the continent, citing the ACJ’s range and capacity as ideal for operators looking for either comfort or the ability to move large groups of passengers.

Meanwhile, Embraer is offering a wide range of aircraft across its size range, and sees a healthy market in the future for smaller jets. “We see the midsize category as a growth area for Africa,” reported Roch Hennessey, the company’s regional sales director for Western Europe, Morocco and Angola. “The Legacy 500 is ideal.” This new aircraft is scheduled for certification next year and introduces fly-by-wire controls. Cessna is also sanguine about the smaller jet market, and already has 110 Citations operating in Africa.

Turboprops Ideal

Africa’s unique geographic environment and lack of airport infrastructure mean that many destinations cannot be served by the larger business jets. Turboprop aircraft such as the Beechcraft King Air are the answer for businessmen and company specialists needing to reach the more remote locations. “We see a significant role in Africa supplementing the larger aircraft,” reported Scott Plumb, Beechcraft’s v-p sales for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “Of the 3,500-plus airports in Africa more than 75 percent are too short or unprepared for jet operations.”

Another beneficiary of the remoteness and poor infrastructure is Cessna. “The African market is very exciting, there is a lot of activity there, especially focused on the Caravan,” said Jodi Noah, senior vice president. “The Caravan is well-suited to the region due to its low operating cost and reliability,” he added.

While there is some investment in airport infrastructure, it will be many years before the need for short/rough-field capability has evaporated. In the near future, the Pilatus PC-24–with its ability to operate from short and unpaved runways–may prove to be an ideal candidate for the African market.