Two leading African airline Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) had divergent views on Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) at the recently concluded 50th African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Rabat Morocco.
Sebastian Micosz of Kenya Airways felt that building basic traffic infrastructure that many countries still lacked was a priority over open market while Tewolde Gebremariam of Ethiopian Airlines felt time was ripe to actualize the united market, hence the need to go headstrong into it.
SAATM was launched in January this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia when 27 countries including Kenya signed the commitment to fully open their skies to boost connectivity, reduce fares and stimulate economic growth among other envisaged benefits albeit with a caution from airline executives that much work was needed for openly genuine skies in Africa.
Days after Rabat, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) reportedly denied Ethiopian Airlines a license to operate scheduled passenger flights between Johannesburg and Brussels via –Nairobi. Mr Micosz said Africa was far from emulating Europe where it took 100 years and very severe control measures to create a united market, the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA).
“We need to first ensure our markets are mature before we go into a united one or else we find ourselves in a situation of collapsing airlines at a time countries are literally outdoing each other in creating own carriers,” said Mr Micosz giving Kenya’s neighbours Uganda and Tanzania as examples.
“Besides, our aviation numbers are still too small for a viable united market on a continent where only 100 million passengers (3% of global aviation traffic) fly yearly out of a 1.3 billion population,” said Mr Micosz comparing that with Europe where low cost Ryan Air alone flies 130 million passengers yearly in a market of 25 to 27 airlines.
The two were part of seven African airline chiefs who participated in a round table CEO’s discussion anchored under the theme ‘doing things differently to secure Africa’s aviation future’. A general concern expressed by a majority of the seven CEO’s was the tendency by most African countries to see airlines as a national identity other than a commercial enterprise and treating airlines as cash cows, rendering operations unsustainably costly through burdening taxes.
Others at the round table debate were Mr Abdelhamid Addou, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Royal Air Maroc Group, Mr Ernest Dikoum, Chief Executive Officer of Camair Company, Mr Sanjeev Gadhia, Chief Executive Officer of Nairobi based cargo airline, Astral Air Mr Rui Carreira, Chief Executive Officer of TAAG Angola Airlines and Mr Desire Balazire Baatu, Chief Executive Officer of Congo Airways. Ethiopian Airlines was for the seventh year in a row declared Africa Airline of the year for its profitability and wide web of global operations.
Congo Airways was voted Africa’s best improved airline. AFRAA Secretary General Mr Abdérahmane Berthe said the association with its headquarters in Nairobi had grown to 40 member airlines representing 85 per cent since inception in Accra, Ghana in 1968. He announced that the next AFRAA General Assembly will be held in the Cameroonian capital, Yaounde next year.
By Joe Ombuor