in Air Transport / Features

Leaders need to plot the way ahead

Posted 24 August 2018 · Add Comment

One of Fly Africa’s authors tells Alan Dron of his optimism about the future of commercial air transport on the continent, despite continuing hurdles that must be overcome.

Poor aviation infrastructure and high ticket prices are only symptoms of the deeper problem facing aviation in Africa, said Eric Kacou, co-author, along with Hassan El-Houry.
“The single most important factor is around the mind-set of the stakeholders – the understanding of what aviation is about and what it takes to succeed.
“People don’t quite understand what it takes for a business to be successful.
“I think what’s required is for some of the stakeholders in the industry, and business strategists, to share their perspective on what it takes for the industry to do well. It’s through discussions and partnerships that we can see what is required.”
One of the major factors likely to improve matters, said Kacou, is a new wave of national leaders who are coming to the fore in Africa: “They are very open to different ways of doing things and are forward-thinking.”
Many of those leaders were due to meet in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, at the end of March to discuss how the continent could integrate better, with the aviation sector being one of the topics up for discussion. “There is a critical mass of leaders who want to see the continent do better and do things differently,” he said.
For instance, said Kacou, he could see signs that African governments were no longer looking on airlines and passengers as mere cash cows to be milked year after year. The presidents of Rwanda, (Paul Kagame) and Senegal (Macky Sall), together with the prime minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, “are all people who have bet on aviation as one of the sectors that can transform their economies and are taking practical steps for the sector to thrive.
“I’ve seen the commitments they have made and have seen those commitments followed by actual investments.”
As well as the impending implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision, which aims, ultimately, to create the same type of open skies arrangement that operates in Europe and allows airlines to fly wherever they wish, a complementary move is the introduction of the new African Union passport, which is designed to allow visa-free travel between nations.
Kacou believes that the new travel document, which was launched in June 2016, will play a part in improving the mobility of Africans, although it has some way to go. The passport will have three formats – an ordinary version for the general public, plus diplomatic passports and official/service passports, which will be issued to government officials who travel on official business.
“It has the potential [to facilitate travel],” said Kacou. Very few people currently had access to it, but the mere fact that it had been produced was a hopeful sign for the future. “It’s not accessible to everyone; it’s still something that’s being given to only a few very senior leaders. It really hasn’t reached critical mass as yet.”
Additionally, not all of Africa’s nations had signed up to it.
If it did become widely available: “It would make things significantly easier, but it’s not clear to me that all the countries will allow people to come in without a visa.”
One of the long-term puzzles of African aviation is why Nigeria, a powerhouse nation, has never become a major force in the continent’s aviation sector. It has been without a national carrier for years and its largest international airline, Arik Air, was taken over by the government in 2017 for fear that it was about to collapse.
Why has this nation of close to 200 million people never taken off as a major force in Africa’s aviation sector?
“There are a number of reasons,” said Kacou. “People often forget that it’s really a federal country, with a number of states. And, historically, it’s a country where you’ve had huge difficulty in terms of infrastructure. I would also say you haven’t had the demand in the past to justify a very vibrant aviation sector.”
Despite factors such as these, however, Kacou is overall highly optimistic of the prospects for Africa: “I think we’re at a new dawn for the aviation sector on the continent.”
 

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