One of the most challenging tasks African aviation faces is getting its importance recognised by the governments of all 54 states in Africa.
The recent remarks by Muhammad Ali Albakri, IATA’s Regional VP for Africa and the Middle East are essential reading for policymakers. Discussing the contribution of air transport, Albakri said that aviation has an extremely important strategic role in supporting Africa’s socio-economic development. This is implicit in the African Union’s ‘Agenda 2063’ which anticipates intra-Africa trade will grow from less than 12% in 2013 to approaching 50% by 2045, and global trade will rise from 2% to 12%.
Albakri noted that air transport currently 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% annual growth – the second fastest of all IATA regions globally. This translates to an extra 199 million passengers per year in 2037 for a total market of 334 million passengers. Cargo volumes are also expected to double over the next 20 years.
The IATA conference was hosted in Ghana and it was thus appropriate that Ghana has explicitly included aviation as part of its National Development Plan under its UNSDG Action Plan, one of the few countries on the continent to do so. This is an enormous step forward to the goal every state should have – that of a ‘Whole of State Aviation Policy’.
It is worth reiterating those factors that are considered the key challenges faced by air transport in Africa: Weak and costly infrastructure, high ticket prices, poor intra-Africa connectivity, and a proliferation of taxes and charges.
These need to be dealt with by the individual African states as well as regionally. Reinforcing the IATA campaign for better collaboration between states, it was argued that there needs to be a strong dialogue and partnership between governments and the aviation industry if the African air transport industry is to deliver the economic and social benefits expected by the much hoped for African renaissance. IATA’s Albakri emphasised that “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.”
Thus, governments need to foster greater collaboration and execute joint actions plans to maximise aviation’s benefits. Collaboration between airlines is essential to improve connectivity and enable African enterprises to take their rightful place by exploiting their competitive advantage in the all-important global value chains. Specifically needed is an improvement in connectivity provided by African airlines in moving traffic within Africa. Significantly in this regard, South African Airways and Ghana’s Africa World Airlines have signed a cooperation agreement which should improve African connectivity.
The key regional priorities for the provision of improved connectivity by the African air transport industry must be: safety, infrastructure and capacity-building, financial sustainability, high industry costs, and smarter regulation. These must be addressed on a regional basis and not merely on a country-by-country basis.