The importance and potential of facing commercial aviation in Africa, as well as the challenges facing the industry, were highlighted at the International Air Transport Association (Iata) Regional Aviation Forum, held late last month in Accra, Ghana. “Aviation is a key enabler for economic and social prosperity in Africa,” highlighted Iata regional VP: Africa and the Middle East Muhammad Ali Albakri in his address to the forum.
He stressed that aviation was a strategic factor with an “extremely important role” in the socioeconomic development of the continent. “This is properly encapsulated in the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which anticipates intra-African trade will grow from less than 12% in 2013 to approaching 50% by 2045, and global trade will rise from 2% to 12%,” he said.
At the moment, air transport maintains 6.2-million jobs and supports $55.8-billion in gross domestic product across the continent.
Air transport demand in Africa is forecast to double over the next 20 years, with an average annual growth rate of 4.6% (only one other Iata region is predicted to grow at a faster rate). This will mean that, in 2037, there will be an extra 199-million passenger journeys a year. The total African market will then total 334-million passengers.
“Cargo volumes are also expected to double over the next 20 years,” he pointed out. “Aviation also plays a central role in achieving 15 out of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.”
But, currently, the development of aviation in Africa is hampered by a number of barriers. These are inadequate and expensive infrastructure, expensive airline tickets, poor connectivity within the continent, and numerous charges and taxes.
“[W]e must ensure a strong dialogue and partnership between governments and the aviation industry if we are to deliver the economic and social benefits to our citizens,” he affirmed. “No State or airline can deliver the full benefits that aviation offers by operating alone . . .
Governments need to foster greater collaboration and coordination and develop and execute joint action 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.”
The priorities that African governments and airlines have to address are, as listed by Albakri, safety, infrastructure and capacity building, financial sustainability, high industry costs and intra-African connectivity, “with the Smarter Regulation approach at the heart of how we work together”. (The association’s website states: “Iata’s Smarter Regulation initiative seeks to promote partnerships with governments that result in regulation that delivers clearly defined, measurable policy objectives in the least burdensome way.”)
Under safety, he highlighted “great progress” in Africa in reducing the aviation accident rate. Sadly, earlier this year, an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX crashed (killing all on board) – the first jet hull loss by an African airline since 2015. Africa was the only region which, last year, saw a reduction in the all-accident rate, compared with 2017. To keep up this momentum, he urged African governments to adopt the Iata Operational Safety Audit and the Iata Safety Audits for Ground Operations.
Faced with growing air transport demand, African countries will have to invest in cost-effective and efficient infrastructure, as well as in developing the necessary skilled aviation professionals. Achieving financial sustainability will need airlines and associated strategic service providers to review and overhaul their internal processes, adopt digitalisation to achieve the necessary efficiencies and cease activities that are unnecessary and costly.
African airlines also suffer from high costs because of various taxes, levies and charges imposed on them by African governments. As a result, jet fuel is 40% more expensive in Africa than elsewhere in the world, while intra-African air travel costs 45% more than the global average.
Concerning connectivity, he asserted that “the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is arguably the continent’s most important policy initiative now – not just for aviation, but for trade and all the ancillary socioeconomic benefits aviation brings”, adding: “Properly harnessed, the benefits of the SAATM will far exceed expectations.”
BY: REBECCA CAMPBELL