IATA Urges Africa to Unlock Benefits of Air Transport

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Chinedu Eze

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said African nations are denying themselves the benefits of air transport by not removing restrictions that impinge on liberalised airspace in the continent.

With a projected rise in passenger movement to 350 million by 2035 in the region, IATA said for Africa to benefit maximally from this growth, it has to unlock the benefits of aviation in the areas of safety, competitiveness, infrastructure and harmonisation.

In a presentation he delivered at the 50th Annual General Meeting of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), the Director General and CEO of IATA, Alexander de Juniac, urged governments in Africa to maximise the positive social and economic power of aviation by working together to promote safe, sustainable and efficient air connectivity.
“African aviation supports $55.8 billion of economic activity and 6.2 million jobs. To enable aviation to be an even bigger driver of prosperity across the continent, we must work closely with governments,” Juniac said.
He noted that safety is a positive example of progress through collaboration.

“Africa has had no jet hull losses for two years running and is two years free of any fatalities on any aircraft type, it’s clear that progress is being made. But more needs to be done. We urge governments to recognise the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) in their safety oversight programs.

“With IOSA carriers performing three times better than airlines not on the IOSA registry, we have a convincing argument. Similarly, states must push forward greater adoption of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPS),” said de Juniac.

De Juniac stated that only 24 African states have complied with at least 60 per cent of the International Civil Aviation Organisation Recommended and Standard Practices and remarked that this was not good enough, urging that countries in Africa should make global air safety standard a top priority.

The IATA Director General also called for closer co-operation among states in the region, saying that for Africa to reap the full benefits of air transport, states must improve competitiveness in terms of loosening existing stiff regulations that shut other airlines from fellow African states.

De Juniac said each country in the continent must develop effective infrastructure in terms of airport facilities, landing aids and runways; modernise their regulatory framework, focusing on global standards and connectivity as well as ensuring a well-trained and diverse workforce.

De Juniac said African states should establish competitive cost structure because presently airlines in Africa, on average, lose $1.55 for every passenger carried, noting that such structures would enable growth, adding that reducing blocked funds is essential to improving the competitiveness of African aviation.

“Africa is an expensive place for airlines to do business. There is no shortage of examples illustrating the heavy burden that governments extract from aviation. Jet fuel costs are 35 per cent higher than the rest of the world. User charges, as a percentage of airlines’ operating costs, are double the industry average. And taxes and charges are among the highest in the world. On top of that, $670 million of airline funds are blocked. Too many African governments view aviation as a luxury rather than a necessity. We must change that perception,” said de Juniac.

On infrastructure he said, “In Africa we have infrastructure problems in two extremes. In some cases, it is overbuilt and expensive. In other cases, it is deficient and cannot meet demand. Dialogue between industry and government is critical to ensure that there is sufficient capacity to meet demand, that airline technical and commercial quality standards are met and that the infrastructure is affordable. Achieving that will create the platform on which aviation’s economic and social benefits can be maximized,” said de Juniac.

Calling for harmonised regulation, IATA therefore expressed strong support for the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative, which encourages the liberalization of the region’s airspace for African airlines.
“The low density of the African intra-continental network makes it impossible to realise the potential benefits of a connected African economy. SAATM—if implemented—gives Africa the potential for economic transformation. History has shown that opening markets leads to rapid advances in connectivity,” said de Juniac.

He noted that to date, 27 African governments have committed to SAATM and IATA encourages the remaining 28 African Union member states to come on board quickly to enjoy the potential benefits of a connected African economy.
De Juniac said projected passenger growth in Africa would quadruple over the next two decades, remarking that this growth would require an expanded labor force. He therefore called on governments to develop policies to build their training pipeline to support growth and tap into the power of women to help alleviate a growing skills shortage in the region.