The International Air Transport Association (IATA), has said West and Central Africa is the least connected air transport market in the aviation industry in Africa.
Vice President, IATA, Africa and the Middle East, Adefunke Adeyemi, stated this at the just concluded 14th Akwaaba African Travel Market, held in Lagos recently.
Adeyemi who spoke on the topic: “Interconnectivity in Africa and the Challenges in Implementing the Single African Air Transport Market, SAATM, Policy, among African Nations”, said the continent has made great strides in the aviation industry.
She however, urged Africans and African airlines to embrace the Single African Air Transport Market to fully harness the benefit inherent in the policy.
In her words: “An airline that is operating across Africa could testify about the goodness and sweetness of the single African transport market. Let talk about what it is, it is a policy decision taken by African heads of states, designed to ensure that Africa is integrated. And this is in line with African Union vision for Africa, to see regional integration, prosperity and mobility across Africa. Now, why does aviation plays such a key role? And why did the Africa Union start with aviation as its flagship project? I think it is fair to say that aviation is the fastest means of transportation across borders in the world. You can travel by ship, you can travel by road, you can travel by rail but aviation is the one that can take you there the fastest. And aviation can travel anywhere in the world within a 24 hour period. Why is this important for Africa? Africa is one of the largest land masses in the world. So what you see on the map is not the reality. The map of Africa does reveal the reality of the vastness of Africa as a continent and that is why the moderator said some times to go to Europe it’s easier, shorter and faster to get there than to go from any part of Africa to another.
“Do you know that it takes 8 hours flying time between Johannesburg and Dakar, meanwhile when you are going to London from Lagos it takes 8 hours. So we need aviation, it is a fundamental necessity for Africa. Now going to the issue of the SAATM as I said, it is designed to ensure that there is integration and connectivity amongst African states and supported by the operations of African airlines. So I need to emphasize this, SAATM is about Africa, for African states and African airlines. And the idea behind this is to ensure better Corporation among these states first at the bilateral level and amongst the airlines in terms of commercial corporation between themselves as African carriers. So this is something designed for Africa and meant to be deployed for Africa by Africa.
“Regarding some of the impediments, why haven’t we seen this great connection across Africa? It is because the airspace over a state, is a sovereign property of that state, so the state has the right to go and negotiate with another state, who can come into their country, how many times that airline can come into their country because it is their sovereign right. So in essence all 55 states in Africa can negotiate in respect of their airspace. Now, what we have seen over time is that many Africa countries have had their national airlines, over time because of its very, very not so easy and sustainable to maintain the national airline especially when it is not run in the proper way, when it is not run as a business. Then we have seen that many of these African airlines have fallen down. So what is important is that Africa has air services between African states.
“Let me illustrate what I mean, is it necessary for every African state to have an airline? No. what the single African skies is trying to do is that there are appropriate air services across Africa that are done by different African airlines, and they don’t have to be from your own country. Lets give some examples of where we are starting to see this. Ethiopian airlines and Asky, they came to an agreement, Ethiopian said they will do technical partnership and that technical partnership will see Asky setup a hub in West Africa and operate within West Africa. West and central Africa is notorious for the least connected in Africa. It is not Ethiopian airlines per say but it is another entity run with different stakeholders involved. And what happened, they started operating within West Africa, people started to benefit. So it wasn’t that they invited Lome, there is no Lome Airways, it is Asky operating out of Lome.
“Do you know what the single African Air Transport market allows you to do? It allows an airline to go to another country and setup a base like Rwand Air is setting up a second hub in Benin Republic, Ethiopian airlines we talked about they have started doing all this around Africa, Chad, Zambia, Malawi. What is stopping other airlines from doing the same thing? Ghana don’t have a Ghana Airways but they have opened up their market giving fifth freedom rights to all African carriers that wants to come in there. Today Ghana has better connectivity out of that country. So that is what the single African market is intended to do. And the idea behind that is that African countries open up their market to each other.
“Now, lets talk about taxes and cost, the moderator mentioned that it is very expensive to fly across Africa and it is true. It is 45% more expensive to fly across Africa than it is in any other part of the world. What are we trying to do about this? We are trying to get governments to understand one of the importance of aviation and two, the fact that aviation is not an elitist luxury good. The world travel statistics was release this year and over 4.1 billion passenger traveled by air, that is over half of the world population, that is mass transit. So how can aviation be seen as a luxury. And for Africa in particular aviation is supposed to be doing that job. We have the same population as a continent as India as a country. Aviation is the biggest means of transportation in India, in China it is the same thing. That is what is supposed to happen in Africa, it is supposed to be a mass transit, to allow people and goods to move freely.
“And what that does is that it facilitates business, trade, economic development, prosperity etc. Government impose taxes on aviation for several reasons. One, we are quite an organised industry, we know how to organise ourselves, we are organised in terms of safety, security, passenger facilitation, even on how we collect money. So it is easy to collect money from aviation. The second is that it is seen as an elitist industry, what is the big deal in putting $10 on a ticket. Well the big deal is that, that $10 is the difference between somebody flying or not flying. And so if you make it a disincentive for people to fly then the industry will not grow. How can airlines benefit from SAATM? How can countries coordinate better? I think that if countries embrace the spirit of SAATM and see what the value that it can bring to their own country and to Africa as a continent then it will make a big difference.
“Now there is always the challenge that the big players will come and eat us up. There are ways around that. If you negotiate properly and have the right arrangement and connection in place that ensures that there is reciprocity in the kind of arrangement that you make, and then seek to accommodate all the different stakeholders. So African countries should be negotiating with the spirit of collaboration and reciprocity and the airlines should also be operating in the spirit of corporation and reciprocity.