African airlines have allowed foreign firms to 'eat their lunch' – acting SAA CEO

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African airlines allowed foreign companies to "eat their lunch", according to Zuks Ramasia, the acting CEO of flag carrier SAA.

"The most important thing is for us as Africans to open up and give each other the freedom to do intra-Africa travel.

"Instead, we allowed the international carriers to come in and be more active in our region," she said last week at the annual general meeting of the Airline Association of Southern Africa hosted by Air Austral in Reunion. 

Ramasia was elected as new AASA chair at the meeting. 

"Maybe it is time for African governments to try to create a test case to demonstrate the full benefits the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) agreement can bring when it is finally being put into practice," she suggested. 

SAATM is an initiative of the African Union to create a single unified air transport market in Africa.

According to Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of AASA, to date a total of 28 African states have committed to the initiative, and there is a concerted effort to get more states to do so. Yet there are still concerns from some SADC states and their airlines regarding its implementation.

At a SAATM workshop hosted by the AU in Kigali in July this year, outstanding regulations preventing implementation were discussed. An attempt was made to ensure that airline interests are taken into account and that there would be reciprocal benefits for all parties when SAATM is put into practice.

'It is a scandal to go via Europe'

Ramasia admits that SAATM is no silver bullet, but she is still convinced of its benefits to the continent and individual countries.

"It is almost a scandal that from Africa you often have to go via Europe to come back to Africa to travel between different African countries," she said.

She would also like to see that the burdens of cost involved in intra-Africa aviation – for instance airport taxes and ground handling – are not placed on airlines alone.

"We have to look at these barriers. It can’t be only up to airlines to handle all these costs of doing intra-Africa business. We need to champion the change we want to see. We have identified SAATM as one of the enablers, although it is not a silver bullet," she said.

"There is potential and we need to get in there and create those (intra-Africa aviation) markets. We need to make the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) restless, so it helps us to get where we want to be, so we can see at next year’s AASA AGM that we have achieved something."

Furthermore, by working in alliances or partnerships a lot can be achieved, in her view.

"That is why SAA is part of the global Star Alliance of airlines and we also have many code-share partners. That means we don’t need our own planes to arrive at a destination. We have a network all over the world without having to be physically present," she said.

In the view of Aaron Munetsi, director of commercial at AFRAA, Africa is ready for SAATM - those who say the playing field is not even, are African airlines who are themselves not ready for the initiative. 

Fin24 was a guest of AASA at its AGM.

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