Intense rivalry not doing SA aviation a favour - expert

AASA CEO Chris Zweigenthal. (Kelvin Saunders/Supplied)
AASA CEO Chris Zweigenthal. (Kelvin Saunders/Supplied)

George – The past 12 months have seen “unprecedented animosity levels” in the South African aviation industry, according to Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (Aasa).

Some carriers are competing fiercely, especially after two new low-cost carriers entered the SA market, said Zweigenthal, speaking at the 45th annual general assembly of Aasa on Friday.

At the same time the South African government's new visa regulations have not only caused division in the aviation industry, but also negatively impacted the travel and tourism industry in South and southern Africa, he warned.

He pointed out that no feedback has been given on the issue since President Jacob Zuma announced the creation of an inter-ministerial committee to review the visa regulations.

“We are not suggesting to relax control, but there are better ways to handle the issue while still helping economic growth and encouraging travel,” he said.

Another aspect in the SA aviation industry that needs to be addressed in Zweigenthal’s view is the frequent leadership changes at local airlines.

“It is clear that internal rivalries do nothing to instill customer confidence in the local aviation industry,” he said.

“Leadership stability is needed and I call for this in order to create company successes.”

It is a pity that the window of opportunity lower oil prices and the weak rand created for tourism in South Africa is not fully used by the industry, said Zweigenthal.

He warned that the aviation industry in Africa is in crisis because it is locked in a profitability bind.

He pointed out that air traffic in Africa is only 3% of global air traffic. A few years ago international airlines from outside Africa carried 40% of the African air traffic and African airlines carried 60%.

Today this ratio has increased to international airlines from outside the continent carrying 82% of African traffic. Zweigenthal expects this ratio to deteriorate even further.

“Many airlines in Africa require a turnaround. At our annual general assembly last year, I already proposed the creation of an airline strategic forum with government and role players to identify how to address this crisis in the African aviation industry,” said Zweigenthal.

“We should focus on joint action and address the limited liberalisation of the airways in Africa and constraints in market access as well as the high airline costs.”

* Carin Smith is the guest of Aasa at its annual general assembly.

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