Presently, the cost of travelling from Lagos to Dakar is as high as the cost of travelling from Lagos to Dubai. This is because the growing market has the poorest air connectivity in the world. Chinedu Eze writes that with increased air connectivity, the region could turn out to be a huge market that will economically up the ante for Africans
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has projected that the number of airline passengers in Africa will more than double in about 20 years time, based on a growth rate of about 5.6 per cent.
IATA said the rate would raise the African number to about 200-million passengers per annum, exceeding that of the global annual compound growth rate, which it estimated at 3.6 per cent.
Also, the Director of SUMMA Airports, the Turkish company that completed the building and presently managing the new Dakar Airport in Senegal, Yildirim Ören, in a recent interview in Accra, Ghana, said Africa’s aviation sector growth would exceed global average in the near future.
Incidentally, West Africa is where the huge market lies in the continent because the sub-region has the fastest growing countries in the continent.
This explains why major carriers in the continent like Ethiopia Airlines, South Africa Airways, Air Maroc, Kenya Airways are battling to raise their market share.
But West Africa is the home of Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa. It is not only that Nigeria is the most populous country in the continent, but it has citizens who like to travel and in creating consumer market in the country, Nigerians travel all over the world to import goods to meet the ever growing taste of Nigerians.
In 1988 African Ministers responsible for civil aviation accepted the liberalisation of African airspace. This was later ratified in 1991 by many countries in the continent without full implementation. But Yamoussoukro Deceleration has been succeeded by the Single Africa Air Travel Market (SAATM), which earlier this year was ratified by the African Union in Addis Ababa. SAATM opens the region’s airspace that an airline from the continent can operate from one country to another in the region without immigration hindrances.
Although ideal, many countries in the continent are still protecting their markets, fearing that it would be eroded by more established airlines. Ironically, some of these countries open their airspace for international carriers from Middle East and Europe.
One of the restraining factors to the full realisation of the benefits of the full open sky for Africa is lack of uniform charges, which made the liberalisation of open sky in Europe the most successful in the world.
Uniform Charges for ECOWAS Countries
At the Routes Africa Conference 2018 in Accra, it was considered that ECOWAS countries would work towards having uniform charges. This would fully open the huge market in the West Coast and boost connectivity and bring down the fares. Instead of travelling to Dubai and other Asian countries and Europe, Africans will grow their own market and patronise themselves.
Oren of SUMMA Airports, which is now building several airports in Africa, said, “The aviation sector in Africa is booming and has very good light for the future and we are very much excited about this.”
“We are also excited to commit these investments in African countries because we believe in the growth of the sector. We will do our best to support the aviation sector in Africa and we will continue in this business,”
SUMMA operates the Dakar Airport in Senegal while also constructing the Niamey Airport in Niger and Khartoum Airport in Sudan, all under Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) contracts of between 25 and 30 years operating periods.
Oren also noted, “But I believe intra-Africa traffic is the more key factor of this because intercontinental traffic will not support it. It is needed but intra-Africa traffic is very important. For this, the infrastructure should be very strong and also the airline companies should be very strong.”
Single African Sky for Nigerian Airlines
Nigeria being the most populous in Africa would have benefitted more from the open sky if it has strong, competing airlines.
Analysing air traffic movement in West and Central Africa, most passengers come from Nigeria and moving to other countries in the sub-region to do business.
Tourism is also growing in the continent, so Nigerians are also travelling to Kenya, South Africa, even Ethiopia and Egypt for tourism.
So, if ECOWAS can agree on uniform charges for airlines it would make SAATM a reality and really speed the realisation of the gains of open sky for the continent.
The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema acknowledged that Nigerian airlines would benefit if there would be uniform charges and equal opportunities given to airlines in the region.
“It is not as if the Nigerian airlines do not support the single African transport market, we support it but there has to be a level of reciprocity, it shouldn’t be one sided. Nigeria shouldn’t open its doors unrestricted in the name of open skies while those other countries are not allowing us easy gateway into their country,” Onyema said.
Travel expert, Ikechi Uko, also said Nigeria has 50 per cent of operational aircraft in the West Coast, adding that it would be to the advantage of Nigerian airlines to standardise the charges and fees, which will enable airlines in the country fly the sub-region like domestic service.
Uko, also noted that what was seriously discussed at the recent Accra Weizo was how African airlines can interline, which if done would benefit Nigerian airlines.
He disclosed that the Ghanaian aviation authorities, Accra Weizo, organisers and IATA were working on interline in the West Coast.
“IATA is working on a template on interline in the West Coast. It would be a local clearing house like the Billings and Settlement Plan (BSP).
“We found out that the major problem among the airlines in Nigeria is the problem of trust, but some airlines are already interlining. Arik is interlining with Aero; Medview is interlining with Dana Air and Asky is interlining with Air Cote d”Ivoire,” Uko who is the organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market and Accra Weizo said.
Competing for West Africa
Ethiopia Airlines, South Africa Airways, Kenya Airways and others want to have a large chunk of West Africa market.
This explains why Ethiopia Airlines set up operations in Togo; South Africa Airways has been operating from Accra to the US in the last two years.
In addition, South Africa Airways, which is now partnering with Ghana’s Africa World Airlines (AWA) has already got approval from Ghanaian authorities to fly from Accra to London. Ethiopia which is also partnering with Air Cote d’Ivoire is flying to Newark, the US from Abidjan.
Talking about competing for the West Africa air travel market, an official of South Africa Airways told THISDAY, “We don’t have any fear with the operations of Ethiopia Airlines in West Africa. We don’t believe that our deal with the Ghanaian authorities will be cancelled. We have strong goodwill with them.
“There is no reason why the agreement will be cancelled. We are in partnership with Africa World Airlines (AWA). This makes the agreement much more concrete.
“We are already testing our Interline Electronics Ticket (IET) with them so if it goes through it means that AWA can issue tickets on South Africa Airways. This means that AWA can be feeding and de-feeding us so we are pretty strong in Accra.”
The official believes that Nigeria really is the target market in West Africa with its huge population and willing travellers.
“The target market is Nigeria, but Nigerian aviation policy has not changed. Nigeria will not give you intercontinental fifth freedom. That is what made it easy for South Africa Airways to work with Ghana.
“Let’s look at it this way. We have intercontinental fifth freedom from Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, but we don’t have from Nigeria. It doesn’t matter. Rightfully so; this is because in Nigeria we have carriers that fly intercontinental directly.
“We have got London direct, we have got US direct; so, it does not make sense for the Nigerian government to give intercontinental fifth freedom but fifth freedom with Africa is available to anybody. That’s why you see the likes of Air Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda Air, Air Namibia and others flying in Nigeria.”
He said SAATM would certainly boost air travel in Africa, especially in West and Central Africa, noting that despite the ratification by some countries for the single African air travel market, they are still protective of their market.
“Nobody has been able to get fifth freedom from Angola or from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We just need to open up in the long run,” he said.
Industry experts agree that with efficient and successful national carrier, Nigeria can get back to dominating the West and Central African travel market.
A South Africa Airways official, who spoke to THISDAY, however noted that if the Nigerian government gives same support it would give its national carrier to its flag carriers.
They would do the same thing the national carrier would do, which is taking over the market of the sub-regions.
“If it is correctly, rightfully done it should have a chunk of the market. People tend to prefer to fly their own carrier. That is fantastic and that is why it is designated national carrier.
“Otherwise, there won’t be any need designating it as national carrier; because we already have flag carriers.
“The nationals of Nigeria want it to succeed; they will not want it to fail, most naturally patronise it and, of course, they also enjoy some privileges and benefits here and there. “So definitely, if properly run, properly managed and properly set up, everybody would want it to succeed.
“But over the years international carriers have been operating into Nigeria. We must not just depend on the national carrier but allow other airlines the opportunity to also operate. We cannot be punished because a company cannot be properly managed,” the official who is a Nigerian said.