in Air Transport / Features

How to unleash the power of Africa through aerospace

Posted 14 March 2019 · Add Comment

Africa has still not realised the full benefits of aviation, according to a panel of industry experts. Alan Dron finds out more at the launch of a new report setting out the sector’s potential to drive the continent’s economic and social sectors.

Agriculture, education, training and innovation are several of the major challenges faced by African nations that can be answered by the aerospace industry, according to a new report from Airbus.
The Great Enabler: Aerospace in Africa looks at aerospace technologies and their impact on socio-economic development on the continent.
The report was launched in Toulouse on October 30 in front of an audience including African government officials, business leaders, intergovernmental bodies and development organisations. It looks at how different parts of the aerospace industry could address challenges faced by the continent.
These could include:
• increasing access to healthcare;
• enhancing food security by making African agriculture more competitive and sustainable;
• promoting education, training and innovation;
• empowering businesses with innovative products and solutions; and
• breaking down barriers to the movement of people and goods across Africa.
“The aerospace industry offers solutions to many of the socio-economic challenges Africa is facing on the path to sustainable development,” said Mikail Houari, president, Airbus Africa Middle East. “A paradigm shift from thinking about aerospace as an isolated industry to a key enabler of socio-economic change is necessary to realise its benefits for a prosperous future.
“That is what this White Paper is aiming at, by highlighting different ways in which aerospace technology can support social and economic development in Africa.
“We do believe in Arica. We are opening more offices. We’re going there, not only to try to sell one product, but also to promote solutions based on our product and looking for long-term relationships.”
The white paper analyses the role of aerospace technologies in sectors with the greatest possible impact on social and economic development, including manufacturing and industrialisation, civil aviation, agriculture, healthcare and humanitarian assistance:
• On manufacturing and industrialisation, many African countries are final consumers in the global aerospace value chain. Joining the ranks of producers in this value chain is challenging for many but not impossible. The examples of Africa’s current leaders in aerospace – South Africa, Tunisia and Morocco – demonstrate the complexities but also the opportunities for African countries to develop aerospace manufacturing and industrialisation capacity.
• In the aviation sector, the key question remains how to connect people to markets and goods in a faster, cheaper and more efficient way in order to maximise the sector’s role as an economic engine and a vehicle for greater integration in Africa.
• Agriculture is perhaps the most consequential pillar of the continent’s sustainable development. However, despite employing more than 60% of Africa’s population, the sector contributes only about 15% of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP) as underlying challenges persist. Aerospace technology, such as precision farming, could potentially reverse this situation by enabling farmers to produce more with less.
• Access to healthcare is still a challenge for many rural populations. While building on the existing technologies in the sector – such as air ambulances – new technology will further change the dynamics of access to medical care and emergency response in terms of quantity, distance and data collection.
The report also stressed the need for clear government policies to harness the power of aerospace technology.
One obvious area where aviation can help Africa achieve economic growth is in tourism. Elcia Grandcourt, director, regional department for Africa of the UN’s World Tourism Organization, told the invited audience that tourism accounts for 10% of world GDP and that 63 million people flew into Africa in the first half of 2018, up 9% on the same period in 2017 and bringing in $37 billion (up 8%).
African tourism numbers are expected to double by 2030. However, although intra-African connectivity is improving, there were still problems with Africans having to travel via hubs outside the continent, she said.
Bringing aviation to the forefront of politicians’ minds was another ongoing problem, the event heard.
The single African air transport market (SAATM) was formally introduced in January 2018 and is designed to help intra-African travel and connectivity. However, said Raphael Kuuchi, IATA’s vice-president Africa, so far, no funding had been available to ‘sensitise’ African nations to the importance of SAATM. The African Union was trying to mobilise the necessary money to remedy this.
During a question and answer session, it was revealed that the African Union, itself, had only a single aviation expert, and that person was actually a European Union consultant. The consultant had left the post over the summer and, as of September, no replacement had been found.
And, although the principles of SAATM had been in place since 1999, there had been a lack of implementation on the ground.
It was said the relevant authority had not been delegated to the ‘executing agency’ for SAATM, the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), which also lacked the relevant office-holder, who could take the necessary decisions to make SAATM a reality.
Kuuchi said that although some measures had been taken to ease air travel on the continent, such as the new, joint east African passport, heads of state had to monitor progress and should periodically ask AFCAC for an update on progress in implementing SAATM.
Girma Wake, the former CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, said that, unfortunately, not all airlines even understood the benefits of SAATM. Some smaller companies believed that the measure only benefited the larger carriers.
“This isn’t true. Big airlines want to operate long-haul flights, not milk-stop-type flights. Small companies can.” All sizes of airline should work together to benefit Africa, he said.
Air Mauritius’ CEO, Somas Appavou, asked if African countries really believed in aviation; there were only 360 commercial aircraft in Africa, he noted: “Turkish Airlines has more than that.”
The value of aviation to Africa could be seen from the statistic that every new job created in the industry generated 10 others in the wider economy, he said. With so much unemployment in Africa, this was a valuable way to create gainful employment.
His company was working to develop an alliance with Kenya Airways, South African Airways and RwandAir. Two memorandums of understanding (MoUs) had been signed to help set this up and he hoped that, by early 2019, the participants would start to benefit from synergies between the four carriers.
Kuuchi noted that the growing African middle classes were deterred from travelling by air by the high cost of tickets.
Every international ticket in Africa typically included $100-150 in various taxes and charges: “This is way off the global average, which is $20-40.” Fuel in Africa was also around 20% more expensive than elsewhere in the world.
He also noted that many African national carriers had collapsed in the past due to political interference, both in the appointment of unsuitable executives and in flying to unprofitable destinations for political, rather than economic, reasons.
Bearing this in mind, he said that any government thinking of setting up a new national carrier should not try to run it: “Allow the private sector to drive it.”
The report reached several recommendations, such as the need to compete by investing in people.
The report’s authors noted that there was considerable action around building new skills and that new forms of training and incubation of entrepreneurs were filling in a shortfall in formal science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, with aerospace demanding new skills.
It also stressed the need to collaborate and cross borders – between sectors, companies and countries – to remedy the fragmented economic development that had characterised much of Africa’s aerospace sector in recent years.
“In air transport, the battle to open Africa’s skies relies heavily, if not solely, on a collective outlook for unlocking the sector’s massive social and economic impact in the long term,” said the report. “The push to licence pilots across borders and retain aviation talent is a powerful example of this.”

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