If, like me, you travel a lot to India and Africa, I have good news: business class fares are going to stay low or even fall in 2014. This is thanks to generous subsidies from the governments of some of the countries with the highest burdens of disease in the world. This October 2013 article from CAPA, the Centre for Aviation, lists the $2.5 billion that African governments are planning to spend on subsidising state carriers. The best news for mileage hounds will come in Nigeria where the government has already spent $741 million propping up two private carriers and plans now to help set up a new national carrier, Nigeria One. Cameroon, the Central Africa Republic and Chad have an even better plan: they will give the money to Air France so that it can run a new monopoly airline (the CAR may be a bit late delivering its share, though). And, Uganda is planning $400 million in airport developments to support its new national carrier.
If you are poor, ill or vulnerable, the outlook is a bit less cheerful. No doubt it’s a coincidence but the big spenders on aviation all spend remarkably little of their national wealth on health. Model countries such as Malawi devote about seven percent of GDP to public health expenditures (Malawi allowed its state airline to go broke in February 2013). By contrast, Chad spends about 1.2 percent of GDP on public health; Nigeria, Cameroon and the CAR all spend less than two percent and; Uganda spends about 3.7 percent. Isn’t it lucky that they have so many international donors who are willing to fund health allowing national funds to be used on things that really matter like cheap business class flights? (All the figures on public health spending come from a very helpful World Bank report and relate to 2011)
Asians shouldn’t feel left out. India spent under 1.2 percent of its national income on public health in 2011 but has found billions of dollars to subsidise Air India. An October 2013 piece in the Wall Street Journal concedes that privatising the cash-bleeding carrier is not an option in an election year. It quotes the Civil Aviation Minister, Ajit Singh, as saying, “After this package of 32,000 crore [rupees] ($5.2 billion), the government will not give any more money. Air India will have to fend for itself,” By coincidence, this is almost exactly the amount (34,000 crore rupees) given by central government to the Union health budget for 2012-13, according to the Economic Times. It is 20 times what India spends on AIDS control. Still, as you can see below, the First Class seats are lovely.