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Single minded

Posted 9 November 2018 · Add Comment

Former Air Burkina and Air Mali CEO, Abderahmane Berthé, took leadership of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) in January, succeeding Elijah Chingosho. Victoria Moores caught up with Berthé to hear about his experience as secretary general so far, as he prepares for the organisation’s biggest event of the year.

What do you expect from this year’s AFRAA annual general assembly (AGA)?
The 50th AGA will be held in Rabat, Morocco, from November 25-27, under the theme ‘Strengthening African aviation in a liberalised environment’. We expect to have a successful AGA, with more than 400 participants from airlines and industry partners from all over the world.
African airlines are expected to reaffirm the need to be more innovative in their service delivery, while managing their costs, to ensure competitiveness and encourage more people to travel by air.
The CEOs and industry leaders will be sharing ideas and views on strategies to succeed in a liberalised environment, as well as approaches for innovation and enhancing the passenger experience.

What are the main barriers to success?
The air transport industry in Africa is still challenging for African airlines.
There is an urgent need to address many obstacles, so our members can return to profitability. These include full implementation of the single African air transport market (SAATM), resolving the issue of blocked funds, addressing above-average passenger taxes, charges, fees and fuel prices, and poor infrastructure at several airports.
Africa represents 16.75% of the world population, but only 2-4% of the global air transport market. African aviation needs to be strengthened to raise market share for African airlines, which currently is less than 20% of international traffic.
The African air transport market is growing rapidly and there should be no barriers to access it. The implementation of the SAATM will create a liberalised environment, benefitting African aviation.

What progress has been made towards making the SAATM a reality?
So far, 26 countries have committed to fully implement the Yamoussoukro Decision [the regulation that underpins intra-African liberalisation]. The aviation industry in those states makes up more than 80% of international traffic to and from Africa, and more states are expected to sign up.
On May 28 this year, 14 African countries signed a SAATM memorandum of implementation (MOI). These comprise Benin, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Togo. By signing the MOI, these states have agreed to harmonise all bilateral air services agreements, ensuring the removal of any restrictions that are not in compliance with the Yamoussoukro Decision. This is a key measure for the SAATM to operate effectively. AFRAA supports the SAATM, because African airlines will benefit from it.

Are there any other major African initiatives under way?
The African Union’s (AU) African passport and the establishment of the African continental free trade area (CFTA) are other components that go hand-in-hand with the thrust towards the SAATM, as air transport is a critical facilitator to the movement of people and goods in this vast continent.
Intra-African trade currently stands at 12-15% of total trade, compared to 60% for Europe, 40% for North America and 30% for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), according to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Enhancing trade can contribute significantly to sustainable economic growth.

What can airlines and AFRAA do to push things along?
From these new developments, African airlines need to better cooperate to improve the connectivity within the African continent. The role of AFRAA is to facilitate this cooperation and create a conducive environment for airlines.
We foresee more routes being opened between African cities and better harmonised networks arising from increased cooperation between African carriers.
But, as you are aware, the aviation business also depends on external factors like fuel cost, political stability and the state of African economies.

What major projects is AFRAA currently working on?
AFRAA is currently working with other industry stakeholders on the implementation of the SAATM, which needs to be disseminated to airlines and states. Others key priority actions on which we are working with various stakeholders include:
• Supporting airlines to maintain high safety and security standards;
• Airline blocked funds repatriation;
• Implementation of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s carbon offsetting and reduction scheme for international aviation (CORSIA);
• Human-capacity building, for the benefit of airlines;
• Facilitating cooperation between airlines for a better intra-Africa connectivity; and
• Lobbying to reduce taxes and charges on African aviation.

How is your first year as AFRAA secretary general progressing?
I have been in office since January 2018. A new organisational structure and action plan are being implemented to align AFRAA’s objectives with key industry issues. Collaboration with other industry stakeholders is also progressing very well.

Do you see any scope for formal tie-ups or mergers with other African airline associations?
We are working closely with the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO), Airports Council International (ACI) Africa, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA), regional boards of airline representatives (BAR associations) and travel agency associations, among others.
A number of joint events are scheduled to take place, such as the forthcoming AFRAA/AACO/IATA joint forum on business transformation, which will take place in Cairo, Egypt, in October this year.
AFRAA also collaborates closely with other industry partner organisations, such as the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
AFRAA and many other similar airline associations around the world have also decided to have an annual meeting to discuss common-interest subjects. The first meeting has been scheduled for January 2019.

What ambitions do you have for the future of the association?
My ambition is to make AFRAA a key player for decision-makers and industry players in Africa. African airlines are facing a lot of challenges; AFRAA will continue to support its members and create value for them.

Do you have a favourite memory from your time there so far?
My favourite memory was the historic launch of the SAATM, which took place at the 30th ordinary session of the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2018. This event was a milestone for African aviation.
 

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