Last week the International Air Transport Association (IATA) hosted a sub-regional conference for West Africa in Accra, Ghana and identified key factors that have been retarding growth of air transport in the area.
IATA believes that if there is increase in passenger traffic across the states in the sub-region, it would enhance connectivity, which would enhance commerce and general economic growth in the West Africa and the continent at large.
Currently many people from West Africa travel outside the continent to buy goods and services, which are available in the West Coast but because there is no robust air connectivity and no road transport, the markets that should thrive and attract people from different countries only cater for the locals.
For example, Europe is a local market because of open sky, common currency and common regulations. There is no inhibition by immigration and rigid sovereignty laws against EU citizens from one country to another.
The IATA Regional Vice President, Africa and Middle East, Muhammad Ali Albakri, in his presentation at the meeting identified weak and costly infrastructure, high ticket prices, poor intra-African connectivity and proliferation of taxes and charges as factors that have retarded growth of air transport in Africa.
However, Albakri, remarked that there was evidence that aviation in Africa has the potential to fuel trade and economic growth, but the aforementioned barriers are a great setback to the aviation industry in the continent.
“So, what do we do? How does aviation move forward? How do we translate all our collaborative efforts into the promise that lies ahead?” he asked.
Albakri, further said there must be a strong dialogue and partnership between government and the aviation industry through collaboration if stakeholders would deliver the economic and social benefits to the citizens. So those involved in governance must work with aviation professionals, investors and operators to ensure that air transport is developed in each country.
“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. Governments need to foster greater collaboration and coordination and develop and execute joint actions 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,” he said.
The Regional Vice President, Africa and Middle East identified regional priorities that must be addressed, which include safety, infrastructure and capacity building, financial sustainability, high industry costs and Africa connectivity, adding that for collaboration and current gaps to be closed, states must work with smarter regulation approach.
He said the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) was arguably the continent’s most important policy initiative now – not just for aviation, but for trade and all the ancillary socio-economic benefits aviation brings.
“Properly harnessed, the benefits of the SAATM will far exceed expectations. The benefits of a connected air transport market are evident in Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America.
“Africa cannot afford to be left out. The time for SAATM is now. We look forward to some robust discussions on this and all the other topics on the agenda. More importantly, we look forward to actionable takeaways to support the work being done by various stakeholders,” Albakri said.
He decried high taxes and charges levelled on travellers and airlines by government and its agencies in the region and said these taxes snuff life out of the airlines and makes cost of air travel exorbitant and elitist.
“High industry costs is one of Africa’s biggest challenges. Passenger taxes, VAT and Solidarity taxes are a big issue. So too are air navigation and airport charges.
“These combine to make intra-African travel 45 per cent more expensive than the world average. At the same time, jet fuel is 40 per cent more expensive in Africa than in the rest of the world.
“Governments have a vital role to play by improving the situation. Hidden costs, such as taxes and fees, should be disclosed and benchmarked against global best practices. Taxes and cross-subsidies on international jet fuel should be eliminated to align with bilateral agreements, the Chicago Treaty and ICAO principles,” he noted.
Albakri said IATA encourages governments to use Smarter Regulations approach to collaborate with industry stakeholders and also to consult transparently and objectively across the aviation value chain to ensure benefits for all.
On airport infrastructure and other critical facilities, he said Africa’s expected growth in demand for air transport would require efficient and cost-effective infrastructure to enable economies and the industry to grow and reap the benefits of aviation.
“But this growth cannot be achieved or sustained without the necessary capacity and skilled workforce. Africa needs skilled aviation professionals in far greater numbers than are available today. The capacity to develop and build those skills is limited. We call on governments to partner with industry associations and training institutions to continuously build capacity to nurture current and future aviation professionals,” Albakri advised.