How have African safari flights changed during the pandemic?

American filmmaker and author John Heminway has returned to Africa nearly every year since 1960. He’s written books and created award-winning films about the continent and is famously known to have said that “If I have ever seen magic, it has been in Africa.”

The world seems to agree. Before the pandemic began, Africa was the second fastest-growing region when it comes to tourism, after Asia Pacific.


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Comprised of 54 countries, Sub-Saharan Africa covers more than 2,100 million square meters. With such a diverse landscape and culture, a trip to the continent isn’t complete without seeing more than one country. CNN lists around 30 must-see places in Africa, and visiting at least a a quarter of them involves multi-country travel. That makes aviation safaris one of the best ways to discover and explore Africa.

AeroTime is celebrating African aviation. Here we investigate safari aviation.   


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Scenic Air is a specialist aviation solutions provider for East and Southern Africa, and is considered to be one of the pioneers of luxury flying safaris in the region. But how has it adapted to deliver the same premium experience and service during the pandemic? 

Established in 2009, Scenic Air offers tailor-made, cross-border flying safari experiences, along with executive air charter services and private jet travel throughout East and Southern Africa.  

What constitutes a safari aviation company in Africa?

A company made up of pilots and aviation professionals which, according to the firm, has “an unquenchable passion for African exploration”, Scenic Air’s fleet is comprised of four executively configured Cessna Grand Caravan 208Bs, 2 Cessna 206s, one Cessna 210 and a Waco biplane.


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Simon Penfold, Scenic Air’s head of marketing and innovations, tells AeroTime that all of Scenic Air’s pilots are home-grown, trained in Kenya (PPL), South Africa and the US (for CPL / ATPL).  All of their Caravan pilots have more than 5,000 hours experience and hold the prerequisite instrument ratings (some have instructor ratings). 

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Tailor-made safaris

In general, Scenic Air offers tailor-made flying safari itineraries crafted around sustainable tourism destinations, luxury safari camps, game lodges and beach destinations in East and Southern Africa.

However, unlike most tour operators, Scenic Air does not have a standard ‘best-selling’ air safari tour. As all of their flying safaris are tailor-made, they rarely repeat the same itinerary/tour twice. 


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“Our guests are quite discerning and always prefer to take the examples that we have published on our website and adapt them to their own preferences,” Penfold tells AeroTime.

“Multi-country flying safaris are a dream ticket and, in most cases, a trip of a lifetime – you’d be crazy not to craft it the way you want it.”

The pandemic pivot

Like most businesses in the travel and tourism industry, Scenic Air wasn’t spared from the effects of the pandemic, not least because the company’s primary source markets are travelers from the USA, UK and Europe, which have been subject to numerous lockdowns and travel restrictions. 

Most of their flying safaris also involve multi-country border crossings, and because different countries in Africa had different COVID-19 protocols, this made it difficult to form itineraries. 

In addition, due to the uncertainty of travel brought about by COVID-19 protocols and requirements that keep changing, many people remained anxious about traveling even when the lockdowns were lifted. 


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“There were operational changes, which saw more private jet arrivals into Nairobi [where Scenic Air is based] and more fastrack connections, avoiding large crowds etc,” Penfold says. 

“We also saw a rise in private charters for family and group travel.”

There were also changes in the type of tours wanted by customers. “During the pandemic and lockdowns, we operated only private charter flights. Post-lockdowns, without a doubt, there was a rise in multigenerational group travel and a preference to conduct a flying safari within only one country.”

Future plans

According to Penfold, in 2021 Scenic Air offset all of its carbon emissions for all aircraft, and the company plans to continue the focus on sustainability in its aviation operations during 2022. 

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In June 2022, the company will also start offering a ‘shared charter’ service between Laikipia and the Masai Mara with Air Wilderness, the aviation company of Lewa Wilderness, one of Kenya’s safari lodges. 

“Post-pandemic, we will continue to improve upon our JetConnect VIP wing-to-wing transfers for incoming private jet visitors. Lastly, we will give more time to developing our overall user experience, both via digital means and on board the aircraft,” Penfold says.

World-altering events like the pandemic may change the way people travel, but the magic of Africa remains. 

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