George – It is important for Africa to establish a single African air transport market by 2017, according to Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters.
Yet fear of competition among African countries has undercut airlines' abilities, said Peters.
Peters was to be the keynote speaker at the opening of the 45th annual general assembly of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (Aasa), but had to excuse herself to attend the ANC’s National General Council in Gauteng.
In a speech delivered on her behalf, Peters said it is time for Africa to make its presence felt in world transport, for which high connectivity is needed. She declared that connectivity – also between air and ground transport - is indeed an aspect her department needs to prioritise.
She pointed out that currently only 11% of trade in Africa is between African countries themselves. Intra-Asian trade, on the other hand, is about 50%.
“We need more African countries to subscribe to the principle of open skies in the continent,” said Peters.
“Air transport is key for tourism and economic growth. The vast majority of travellers in Africa are trapped on routes without effective alternatives.”
She admitted there is a need for her department to cooperate with the Department of Tourism as air transport and tourism play an interdependent role. Unfortunately there is often a disconnect between the two due to separate regulatory policies, said Peters.
Regarding concerns about the impact of SA’s new visa regulations on the tourism industry, Peters said Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba is working with her department to see how children's safety can be addressed without impacting on tourism.
She pointed out that a report by the International Air Transport Association shows the social and economic benefits if just 12 African countries liberalise their aviation industries by allowing open skies.
“If these shackles were taken off, Africa has a huge potential market for aviation. African governments must use aviation for economic growth,” said Peters.
“Africa needs more viable airlines that can compete. Emirates Airlines, for instance, are attracting tourists via its hub in Dubai.”
* Carin Smith is the guest of Aasa at its AGM.