The Iata (International Air Transport Association) Regional Aviation Forum for West and Central Africa took place on June 24 and 25 in Accra, Ghana, highlighting challenges facing African aviation today and the possible solutions.
In his opening remarks, Muhammad Ali Albakri, Iata’s regional vice-president, Africa and Middle East, said: “Aviation is strategic; it has an extremely important role in supporting Africa’s socio- economic development.”
Air transport supports 6.2 million jobs and $55.8 billion of GDP in Africa. Over the next 20 years, demand for air transport is expected to double, with a 4.6 per cent annual growth.
While it is evident that aviation in Africa has the potential to fuel trade and economic growth, several barriers exist, not least of them are weak and costly infrastructure, high ticket prices, poor intra-Africa connectivity, and a proliferation of taxes and charges.
The solution lies in collaboration, said Ali Albakri. “First, we must ensure a strong dialogue and partnership between government and the aviation industry if we are to deliver the economic and social benefits to our citizens. No state or airline can deliver the full benefits that aviation offers by operating alone; competition is part of our business, but collaboration and cooperation must be the common denominator upon which we all operate.”
Governments need to foster greater collaboration and coordination and develop and execute joint actions plans to maximise aviation’s impact.
“Collaboration between airlines is also crucial if we want to improve connectivity and increase the share of African carriers moving traffic to, from and within Africa.” Recently, South African Airways and Africa World Airlines signed a cooperation agreement, which will feed into improving African connectivity.
Africa must focus its efforts on five issues, namely: safety, infrastructure and capacity-building, financial sustainability, high industry costs and connectivity, Ali Albakri said.
“Safety comes first. It’s the industry’s top priority in every region. Tragically, we suffered the loss of ET302 in March. However, 2018 marked the third successive year in which there were no African airline jet hull losses or fatal accidents.
“Last year, Africa was the only region to see a decline in the all accident rate compared to 2017. This is great progress. We need to continue this momentum.”
Africa’s expected growth in demand for air transport will require efficient and cost-effective infrastructure to enable economies and the industry to grow and reap the benefits of aviation.
But this growth cannot be achieved or sustained without the necessary capacity and skilled workforce. Africa needs skilled aviation professionals in far greater numbers than are available today. The capacity to develop and build those skills is limited.
A financially sustainable industry will require airlines and their strategic service providers to review and enhance their internal processes. This means eliminating unnecessary and costly activities while taking full advantage of digitalisation to achieve the needed efficiencies. This is to provide the expected services to travellers, but also to increase profits to enable reinvestment for growth and expansion.
Ali Albakri said, “The fourth issue I want to address is the high industry costs. This is one of Africa’s biggest challenges. Passenger taxes, VAT and Solidarity taxes are a big issue. So too are air navigation and airport charges. These combine to make intra-African travel 45 per cent more expensive than the world average. At the same time, jet fuel is 40 per cent more expensive in Africa than in the rest of the world.
The Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) is arguably the continent's most important policy initiative now, said Ali Albakri, and not just for aviation, but for trade and all the ancillary socio-economic benefits aviation brings. Properly harnessed, the benefits of the SAATM will far exceed expectations. The benefits of a connected air transport market are evident in Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America.
“Africa cannot afford to be left out. The time for SAATM is now.”
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