By Heidi Gibson
Focus Africa, a dedicated International Air Transport Association (IATA) initiative aimed at finding solutions to the complex challenges faced by the African aviation sector, came under the spotlight during a hybrid media briefing event held recently.
Accepting that there had been ‘challenges’ involved in the establishment of the Focus Africa programme, IATA regional vice-president for Africa & Middle East, Kamil Alawadhi said obstacles that were there had been dealt with and sufficient support from the continent had been received.
The African aviation sector has unique challenges. With an estimated 115 million passengers, it only accounts for about 2% of world travel. Of this number, 85% accounts for international travel while 15% is for regional.
Operating costs for African Airlines sit at a whopping 40% while the rest of the industry tackles costs in the region of 20-25%.
In addition to this, the cost of jet fuel is at least 1% higher than in any other region across the globe.
IATA’s Focus Africa aims to identify the reasons for this state of affairs and to come up with collaborative solutions.
The initiative has six priority areas for Africa namely: safety, connectivity, infrastructure, finance, sustainability and future skills.
“In a continent that has one seventh of the world’s youngest population it makes sense for us to give priority to training the next generation of aviators”, said Alawadhi.
He said at the launch of the Collaborative, Aviation Safety Improvement Programme or CASIP partnership programme in October, a Boeing representative had been elected as chairman.
“IATA is focusing very hard on Africa. It has been for 2022 and in 2023 and will be for the next two to three years. Our team is working hard to bring about change. I look forward to meeting again next year when we can see the results of our efforts and measure how much has been achieved,” he said.
Other issues discussed at the briefing included that of blocked funds – where host governments refuse or delay payment of funds – US dollars – due to airlines. Nigeria tops the list with (US) $792 million owed to airlines.
“The situation is getting very serious. We are getting to breaking point here where the airline will not be able to operate, let alone fly into the airport concerned and I would like to see the government of this country taking bigger steps to get involved and try to unlock this situation,” said Alawadhi.
Second on the list is Egypt with (US) $348 million, Algeria (US) $199 million, the XAF region with (US) $183 million and Ethiopia with (US) $128 million.
“Ethiopia has committed to try and solve the problem by getting the central banks of both countries to talk to each other. This is a positive step in trying to resolve this issue,” he said.
Talking about the high rate of accidents and events in Africa, he said, the average rate is seven times higher than anywhere else in the world and safety remains a priority focus area,” he said.
Referring to the slow progress of the implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market or SAATM, he said the issue is very complicated.
IATA regional director for sustainability Somas Appavou said the concept of the liberalisation of air transport across the continent is a process hampered by high operating costs and a low propensity to travel.
“Harmonising 54 different sets of aviation legislation, cultures, and Civil Aviation authorities is going to take a long time. Instead, what needs to be done is the levelling of the playing fields,” he said.
Despite all of this, Alawadhi said the outlook remained positive in terms of Gross Domestic Profit.
“The IMF figures show GDP will reach 3.8% and inflation levels have peaked. This means that inflation should come down in 2024 which bodes well for the sector.”
Global international air connectivity in Sep 2023 is at 90% of pre-crisis levels with Africa currently at 104%.