Is the Ebola Epidemic Going to Make African Air Cargo More Expensive?

Africa, specifically the western part of the continent has been hard hit by the Ebola epidemic which broke out some months ago.
Official figures show almost 3,000 people have perished and another 5,000 are suffering from the disease. And things seem to be worsening day by day. This also has great effects on aviation and the cargo biz.

Sierra Leone’s gateway Lungi International, which used to bustle with aviation activities, is virtually dead  /  source: private
Sierra Leone’s gateway Lungi International, which used to bustle with aviation activities, is virtually dead / source: private

Most probably - the actual figures are even higher and it seems that despite reactions from the World Health organization (WHO), the pandemic is so far unstoppable.
This terrible affliction has crippled Liberia and Sierra Leone already and reached Nigeria meanwhile. Now, many concerned are asking when it will sweep over the West African borders into South and East Africa.

Transport starts to become restricted
The Liberian government has made it official that they consider their national existence as being in great danger and have had to close their borders.
Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone are all in danger of having to do the same.
Trade to and from these countries starts to become restricted due to lack of personnel to handle goods and the understandable reluctance of other countries to allow their staff to operate or deal in these areas.
The first “known“ cases have been reported in Nigeria and it is uncertain to date as to how far Ebola has penetrated into the country.

It’s almost impossible to officially close all borders on the African continent and due to lack of controls impossible to stem a flow of people wanting to leave affected areas for what they may consider as safer havens.

Carriers start to restrict services
Airlines operating into the afflicted West African states have given their crews strict instructions on how to move about and are mainly worried about inadvertently carrying inflicted persons on their flights.
So far, this dreaded sickness has not officially reached Eastern and Southern African states or the Central Congolese areas.
It’s probably only a matter of time.
Chinese investment in East, Central and South Africa is heavy in form of financial input as well as the number of Chinese nationals who are on site in this vast area helping to develop mining and transport infrastructures.
They too, surely are very worried about Ebola crossing into their areas of operations.

WHO officials speak of collapsing health systems in Sierra Leone and Liberia  /  source WHO
WHO officials speak of collapsing health systems in Sierra Leone and Liberia / source WHO

Will investment in Africa drop severely?
It most certainly might do!
If airlines are forced to severely reduce or totally cancel operations, then trade flows will start to dry up.
Africa still depends quite a lot on the import of necessary goods by air as well as the fast export of perishables which are the mainstay for many economies.
If these dry up, then economic chaos will be the result.

There is an understandable panic in the affected countries. If this panic switches over to others outside of the continent, then one dreads to think what might be the end result.
China as probably the largest investor today in Africa will have to start rethinking their strategy there as they would quite rightly have a horror vision of what might happen if Ebola were to enter China where strict control would be much harder than in Europe for example.

Cargolux increase rates to Africa
The Luxembourg-based all freighter operator has just announced that they will increase airfreight rates to the African continent due to high extra costs which are to be expected due to the Ebola situation

(see: Ebola Outbreak Jeopardizes African Economies, in CFG of 8 September 2014).
CV crews have been instructed not to leave the flight deck during stopovers at African cities and the company is said to be seriously considering protective clothing for their crews which are to be worn in the period after having landed until just before takeoff.

The main extra cost will come from CV have to double their cockpit crews on each flight thereby giving one set of crew members the chance to rest on the upper deck section between rotations.
Dirk Reich, Cargolux CEO, states that further extra cost will be entailed through other “preventive measures needed to protect crews.”

Airlines might stop serving Ebola infected countries
Some industry captains are also of the opinion that once it is clear that this epidemic is unstoppable, and then many carriers will cease passenger operations into certain African countries, thereby reducing the belly capacity on offer and finally resulting in a rise in air freight rates to the continent.

WHO has been trying desperately to find a means to combat this sickness, so far without much success.
There are many western medical experts engaged in Africa at a terrible risk to themselves.
The healthy world economies need to come up with some real financial support to help stem this epidemic and not just hope that it goes away by dropping €10m on the doorstep.

If not, then we may have this pandemic on our own doorstep sometime soon.

John Mc Donagh

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