Africa aviation faces four big challenges - Iata

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Miami – Aviation in Africa faces four big challenges which are preventing the continent from reaping major economic benefits.

This is according to Tony Tyler, chief executive officer of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), who spoke to Fin24 at the closing of Iata's annual general meeting on Tuesday.

He pointed out that safety is the first challenge.

“Although 2014 was a banner year for African aviation due to no jet hull loss, there are still too many accidents in Africa and there is still poor regulatory oversight in many areas,” said Tyler.

Iata is therefore heavily involved in training and capacity building on the continent to develop skills and experience in the use of safety systems.

A second aviation constraint holding the continent back is what Tyler calls “very restrictive air traffic regimes prevailing around the continent”.

“It is strange that African countries seem more willing to give flight permission to airlines from outside the continent than to those from within the continent. About 80% of the air traffic to Africa is on non-African airlines,” said Tyler.

He believes there should be more intra-African airline activities. Despite African countries having agreed to liberalise the skies, he has not seen much happening in that regard.

“Poor connectivity is losing Africa lots of opportunities for growth,” cautioned Tyler.

A third challenge he pointed out is poor infrastructure on the continent, while a fourth is exorbitant aviation-related taxes and fuel costs on the continent. The cost of fuel in Africa is about 21% higher than the world average.

“All these challenges are hampering Africa’s growth through aviation and the continent is losing opportunities,” said Tyler.

“We have seen promises about liberalising the African skies before, now let us see some action in this regard.”

Raphael Kuuchi, Iata’s vice-president for Africa, told Fin24 that aviation is a critical tool for development on the continent, yet is not given the attention it deserves by investors.

In his view the three biggest concerns in the continent’s aviation industry are safety and security, market access and industry costs.

He said an Iata studied showed that if only 12 African countries opened their skies, they would be able to create thousands of jobs and add billions to their gross domestic product each year.

Greater competition would also lead to more people being able to afford air travel.

His answer to African countries who believe that opening up their markets would kill local airlines is that these airlines are dying anyway, even without having opened up the market.

“On the other hand, opening up the market will also give opportunities to those struggling airlines,” said Kuuchi.

“Our research shows that if you make aviation accessible, it leads to greater efficiency and productivity and it creates opportunities for a country’s citizens. Air transport should be a basic service.”

According to Rudy Quevedo, Iata’s director of safety, it is critical for the aviation industry in general to continue to focus on enhancing safety year on year.

“We believe it is better to rather look for precursors to incidents by analysing data, and once a hot spot has been identified to look at mitigating the causes,” he said.

* Fin24 is an Iata guest at its AGM. 

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