By Chinedu Eze – ThisDay Newspaers
Gittens, who made this known at the 23rd Airport Council International Regional Conference in Durban, South Africa, said aviation contributed significantly to the region’s economy, noting that air transport increased in the given period by 4.6 per cent, describing it as an important period in the continent’s aviation industry.
She said in spite of the improvement in the air transport industry in Africa, tourism experienced decline by 12 per cent during the period due to political crisis in Egypt and Tunisia which are major tourism destinations in the region.
Gittens said the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos is the second busiest airport in Africa, adding that Lagos airport is also experiencing cargo growth as it has gone up to the fifth in the continent.
Meanwhile, the President Airport Council International (ACI), for Africa, Mr. Pascal Komla has lamented the restrictions placed on air travel by some countries and the unwillingness of some nations to develop their airports.
Komla said African countries could have improved more economically with the greater commitment by states to develop the aviation sector in their countries, adding, “We need partners to help African airports to grow to their full potential. Strong aviation industry can lead to the transformation of the continent”.
Konla noted that airport authorities in the continent should consider significant reduction in airport tariff, describing excessive taxes paid by airlines and other airport users as a huge disincentive.
According to him, the conference provides another platform for airport managers across Africa and the world to share information and forge a common vision for the future of African airport business.
He added that the conference has examined the importance of service excellence and how it impacts on effective operations at the airport by brining to the fore what stakeholders need to do to achieve high levels of service quality at airports
He said there had been more flights in Africa’s airspace compared to the past and attributed this to increased connectivity which is a response to the call for liberalisation of Africa skies as enshrined in the Yamoussoukro Decision, a policy signed by African states and embraced by some countries in the region.
However, Konla said there were series of challenges confronting the implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision and that is the refusal by some countries in the continent to embrace the policy, remarking that the adoption of the decision by Kenya and Ethiopia assisted the countries to grow and create employment in the aviation sector.
He said studies conducted by experts revealed that the benefits of adopting a liberalised air transport sector in Africa far outweighed any possible disadvantage and condemned protectionism which is being practised by countries like Angola, adding that such policy impairs economic growth and encourages restriction on travelling.
Also the South Africa Deputy Minister of Transport, Ms. Lydia Sindisiwe Chikunga called on African nations to show more commitment in the development of air transport in the region, noting that air transport is the pivot of modern economic development.
“It does not take a rocket science to understand the centrality of air transport to the ability of the continent to communicate, to grow the economies, to facilitate trade, to bring people closer to together, when we remember that the vast majority of the delegates attending this conference took to the skies to get to South Africa and to get to Durban,” she said.
Chikunga said African aviation and air transport sector must not simply reach for the sky but also connect small villages to the global market, adding that the difficulty and ease of passenger facilitation reflects the level of development of airports in the continent.
“Aviation plays an important role in forming linkages between different countries in the continent.
Being a commodious continent, Africa provides the perfect stimuli for the growth of the aviation sector. However, despite the increase in passenger numbers in the last 10 years, it is important to think that in terms of a ten-year span you can plant trees but if you were to plan for 100 years it is important that you ensure that you teach, you train, you capacitate people, indirectly investing in the future growth of economies.,” she said.
Chikunga remarked the transport sector in general and air transport in particular remains a critical driver and enabler to advance economic development, job creation, growth, and further provide equitable access to opportunities and services for all, while fostering an inclusive society and economy.
“Economic progression will be turbulent and fragile as long as we do not transform institutions and industries to respond positively in fostering poverty alleviation, employment and equality in South Africa and the African continent as a whole; which calls for a continuous skilled and enterprising society,” the Deputy Minister of Transport said.
She noted that the ability to achieve such a society is a function of leadership among all social and economic partners, adding that a study conducted by the World Bank disclosed that, Africa is home to 12 per cent of the world’s population, but accounts for less than one per cent of the global air service market.
“However, despite the increase in passenger numbers in the last 10 years, it is important to highlight that the growth of the industry did not correspond to the growth of the sector as it is evident in research statistics. The reasons are varied but for the purpose of this conference, it is important to single out one of these, being service standards,” she said.
Chikunga said whilst there are pockets of excellence throughout the continent, the region’s mandate should be to ensure that exceptional service becomes the norm rather than the exception, noting that the quest for service excellence should not be seen in isolation to economic development.
“Whilst our airports have met, and at times exceeded, the required standards, there is a lot that still needs to be done and shared amongst airport management companies to meet the needs of all African travellers and ensure that they have a common customer experience without prejudice or favour,” she added.