By Abel Orukpe
Lagos Connecting Europe and other countries of the world by air from Africa is easier compared to connecting one African country to other African countries .In the same vein, while the air links between Africa and other parts of the world have been liberalised, the intra African air links are not liberalised and that has made it difficult if not impossible, to do intra Africa air connectivity.
Besides making intra African air connectivity difficult due to the non- liberalisation of air transport between African countries, it has also denied the continent the much needed development. To a very large extent, most African countries have not liberalised air transport among themselves.
Aviation is the mass transit of the world. While other modes of transport ferry passengers from one point to the other, air transport moves people and goods from one point to other points. However, due to the absence of intra-African air connectivity, aviation experts are asking; how do Africans move both people and goods around Africa?
According to the Regional Head, Member and External Relations, Africa and Middle East, Adefunke Adeyemi, it was based on this that Inter VISTAS Consulting Limited was commissioned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to undertake study to examine the impacts of liberalising intra African air market.
The study, according IATA, involves modelling the transmission mechanisms by which liberalisation leads to greater air connectivity, resulting in increased traffic volumes and ultimately generating wide economic benefits.
Apart from the absence of intra-African-air connectivity, Adeyemi stated that it was also discovered that air fares on intra African routes are higher than fares paid on Africa to other destinations outside Africa.
Inter VISTAS study also revealed that intra-African fares are 45 per cent higher than other fares and that 23 African countries have open skies with the United States but that no one African country has full open sky with another.
The IATA commissioned company disclosed that Iceland, one of the most sparsely populated in Europe with a population of 325,671 has the connectivity in the world.
Speaking further, Adeyemi lamented that the company while carrying out it study discovered that despite removing some of the hurdles that make Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD)un-implementable, African countries have refused to liberalise their air transport .
The effect of this, according to her, is that there is no intra air connectivity among African countries and that of all the sub-regions in the continent, West Africa sub region is most guilty.
The study further revealed that West Africa is the worst in Africa as far as air connectivity is concerned.
Benefits of Intra African Air Connectivity:
According to the IATA Regional Head, Member and External Relations, Africa and Middle East, while X-raying the Inter VISTAS findings stated that passengers travelling between these countries are expected to benefit from fare reduction of 25-35 per cent providing a saving of over $0.5 billion per annum.
She stated that greater connectivity would be achieved if there is intra African air connectivity, adding that of the 66 country pairs between the 12 counties, 34, which is about 52 per cent had some form of direct service in 2013.
She added that with liberalisation, it is projected that an additional 17 country pairs will benefit from direct service so that 75 per cent of country pairs will have direct service.
Also, Adeyemi said that, when there is intra African air connectivity, it would help passengers to save time, as new routes and frequencies will shorten the flying time between many cities.
Explaining further, she said that in 2013, there was no direct service between Algeria and Nigeria, adding that the most convenient routing available was via Morocco; Algiers -Casablanca -Lagos with a minimum journey time of nine hours depending on the connecting times, it could be as much as 17 hours. While a direct flight service is projected to reduce the traveling time between Algiers and Lagos to about four to five hours.
Benefits of Intra African Air Connectivity to economy:
Again, according to the IATA representative, the impacts of liberalisation extend beyond the benefits to passengers and cargo shippers and that the increased air service levels will stimulate employment in the aviation sector to handle passengers and their baggage and to operate service and maintain aircraft.
Liberalisation, she said is also expected to stimulate tourism between the countries, generating an estimated $1.3 billion in additional tourism spending, adding that the most significant benefit is that the increase in intra African air connectivity can facilitate many other sectors of the economy by supporting increased trade, attracting new businesses to the region, encouraging investment and enhancing productivity.
She added that industries and companies that would otherwise exit a region can be attracted by the improved air transport connectivity.
The IATA representative stated that Ethiopia’s pursuit of more liberal bilateral arrangement on a reciprocal basis has contributed to Ethiopian Airlines becoming one of the largest and most profitable airlines in Africa, adding that research has found that on intra-African routes with more liberal bilateral, Ethiopians benefit from 10-21 per cent lower fares and 35-38 per cent higher frequencies compared to restricted intra-Africa routes.
She also cited the 2006 Morocco-EU open skies agreement, which according to her led to 160 per cent rise in traffic and the number of routes operating between points in the EU and points in Morocco increasing from 83 in 2005 to 309 in 2013.
The agreement of a more liberal air market between South Africa and Kenya in the early 2000s,she said led to 69 per cent rise in passenger traffic and that, allowing the operation of a low cost carrier service between South Africa and Zambia resulted in a 38 per cent reduction in discount fares and 38 per cent increase in passenger traffic.
Hurdles against implementing Intra African Air Connectivity:
Despite the benefits of air transport and the liberalisation of air transport, coupled with being signatory to the Yamoussoukro Decision in 1999, African countries, who are signatories to this Decision have not fully implemented it and turned around the economy of the continent. While they also have full open skies agreements with other countries of the world ,these same African countries find it extremely difficult to have intra African air transport among themselves. This has prompted experts in the industry to wonder why African countries are also willing to sign open skies agreement with European countries while they drag the feet when it concerns intra African air connectivity.
Experts also observed that most African countries still hold tight to their separate policies, which they believed in and want to implement instead of implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision.
Traffic impacts of intra-African liberalisation:
Adeyemi stated that to understand the potential benefits of intra-African liberalisation, analysis was conducted examining the impact of liberalising air markets between 12 countries within four sub-regions of Afric; North: Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia; East: Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda; South: Angola, Namibia, South Africa; and West: Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal.
She said that the impacts of liberalising the air market between these 12 countries were estimated using a gravity model developed, which forecasts traffic between any two countries or groups of countries based on the two countries’ economic characteristics; trade levels, geographic relationship and the characteristics of the air service bilateral between the two countries.
She opined that by specifying changes to the terms of the bilateral, the model can be used to estimate the traffic impact resulting from liberalisation, adding that from this, the model then estimates the resulting employment impacts and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) impacts.
Speaking on the intra African air connectivity, Travel Business Consultant and Promoter, Ikechi Uko, commended IATA officials for the awareness the international body is creating on the need to implement intra African air connectivity.
He further advocated the introduction of common visa like what is being done in East Africa, adding that if there is intra connectivity and Africans cannot travel ,the purpose of implementing intra African air connectivity would have been defeated.
On his part, the Executive Director, Landover Company, Mrs. Aduke Atiba called on IATA officials to ensure that they carry the various governments in Africa along while trying to educate and sensitise Africans on the need to implement the intra African air transport.
She said that they should also get the various governments in other issues relating to African aviation, adding that those that are going to implement the intra African air connectivity are not found at seminars.
The Executive Director pointed out that until the decision makers are carried along, Yamoussoukro Decision would not be implemented even if stakeholders organise several workshops on the intra African air connectivity.
Speaking at the IATA forum, “The Economic Impact of Intra-African Air Service Liberalisation”, the Chief Executive Officer of Belujane Konzult, Mr Chris Aligbe, stated that there is always a driver of policy at every sub- regional levels.
He said that Nigeria with her population, wealth and number of airlines in the country is positioned as the driver in the West Africa sub-region, adding that when Nigeria commences the implementation of intra African air connectivity, other counties in the sub region would follow suit.
Aligbe, however, said that other sub-regions in Africa have moved on, but lamented that the West Africa sub-region where Nigeria belongs, is not ready.
The former General Manager, Public Affairs of the liquidated Nigeria Airways Limited, advised IATA officials to design an intra African air connectivity programme, bearing in mind the transformation agenda of the Federal Government, adding that it is only by doing this, can they draw the attention of Government.
He added that when IATA adds the transformation agenda of the Federal Government to the theme of the intra African air connectivity ,that is only when the government will buy the idea.
The Associate Vice President, Global Sales and Distribution, Arik Air, Mr Trevor Henry, said that it is up to the government to be the leader because the people that attended the Yamoussoukro Decision are the ones to implement the decisions reached at the meeting ,adding that airlines are just users of that facility .
He said that the only thing the airlines can do is to lobby the Nigerian Government to implement, but that airlines in Nigeria cannot lobby the governments of other countries.
Trevor stated that while airlines are lobbying their various governments, they must let them know the benefits it would bring and that it is reciprocal.
He said that going by Nigeria’s population and the number of airlines, it can drive the intra African air connectivity in the region.
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