- Africa is one of the fastest growing regions for commercial aviation.
- Boeing's Vice President for Commercial Sales says the continent's potential is huge.
- African airlines face political and technological challenges in fulfilling their full potential.
Africa's passenger airline industry may still be awaiting full take off but Boeing has identified the continent as a market ripe with potential.
The U.S. company -- one of the world's biggest airplane manufacturers -- has found its order book filled with an increasing number of African clients in recent years.
But with airlines based on the continent still only accounting for a fraction of overall air traffic between Africa and the rest of the world, the company's Vice President of Sales for Africa, Van Rex Gallard believes there remains plenty of room for further expansion.
"Right now the African market for the airlines is quite small," he says.
"African airlines only have around 2% of the total of revenues of the traffic between Africa and the rest of the world, so to me the potential is huge," he adds.
The latent "potential" that Gallard refers to is confirmed by industry statistics and future passenger projections.
According to research conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in February 2011, Africa is now the second fastest growing region in the world in terms of commercial aviation, behind China.
The Airbus Global Market Forecast published earlier this month meanwhile reported that sub-Saharan Africa alone will require at least 542 new aircraft by 2020 to meet rising passenger numbers.
By providing the technology and expertise to meet these increased capacity requirements, Gallard believes that Boeing and the African airlines they provide for can jointly reap the benefits.
"We have a lot of customers in Africa and this is actually a very exciting period," he says.
"The numbers, if everything stays the way it is right now ... without the African airlines growing faster and the way they should, it would be around 800 airplanes for the next 20 years (and) worth around 100 billion dollars," he adds.
Gallard cites airlines such as Nigeria's Arik Air -- which recently purchased two 747-8 Passenger Airplanes, Boeing's biggest passenger planes ---, Ethiopia Airlines, Kenya Airways and Rwanda Air as some of the companies striving to meet Africa's burgeoning aviation and connectivity needs.
But while bullish about the potential of these companies in the years to come, he remains wary of the infrastructure, political and technological challenges they must first navigate if they are to fully meet their potential.
Gallard cites a lack of trained pilots, poor safety records, African governments unwilling to open their skies and foreign competitors -- particularly from the Middle East -- who can undercut the prices of African airlines, as some of his most pressing concerns.
Yet in spite of these issues Gallard remains optimistic about what can be achieved if airlines, manufacturers and governments work together for the good of continent as a whole.
"Aviation ... is a machine that will develop the region," he says.
If governments and African airlines can combine their interests and meet these challenges, he adds "they will be able to find growth and development," across Africa, taking full "advantage of this machine."