Intra-Africa travel 45% more than world average
WINDHOEK – Namibia has yet to sign up to the African Union’s Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) project, after 28 countries on the continent have already signed up. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a single air transport market for the continent, if implemented, gives Africa the potential for economic transformation and the association has urged the remaining 27 countries to follow suit.
“There is also a completely ‘made in Africa’ policy initiative which we are wholeheartedly supporting…It is such a pain to get around this continent by any means of transport, including air. This inefficiency has an economic cost. The low density of the African intra-continental network makes it impossible to realize the potential benefits of a connected African economy. Today, intra-African travel is 45 percent more expensive than world averages,” said Raphael Kuuchi, IATA’s Special Envoy on Aero-Political Affairs during a recent African Airline Association’s stakeholder’s convention in Mauritius.
Kuuchi noted that countries that have signed up to the agreement need to follow promises with action.
“History has shown that opening markets leads to rapid advances in connectivity. In the case of Africa, it must be accompanied with a reduction in onerous visa requirements. We are confident that the results of 28 states that have signed on to SAATM will make a powerful case for the remaining 27 to come on board quickly,” said Kuuchi.
IATA has worked with the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) and the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) to publish a guidance booklet on SAATM implementation. This was launched last year to help all stakeholders work together to take the best advantage of SAATM’s potential to boost Africa’s economic development on the wings of aviation.
However, thus far the countries that have agreed to take part in the agreement are Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.
Kuuchi noted that for years, air transport between African countries was governed by a relatively small number of bilateral agreements, which he said was a legacy of the post-colonial era when carriers from newly independent African countries connected chiefly with their former colonial powers.
Many African countries restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers. But, signatories to SAATM hope that greater competitiveness will bring down airfares and increase the number of direct air connections between African countries.
Kuuchi continued by noting the urgency of developing Africa’s human talent to realise the full potential for Africa’s aviation future. “Africa needs skilled aviation professionals in far greater numbers than we have today and the capacity to develop skills is limited. Even today, finding and retaining the right talent is a challenge. As connectivity improves and traffic grows, this could get worse if not addressed,” he cautioned.
In fact, IATA has long been active in developing the continent’s human capital as every year many African aviation professionals are trained either directly by IATA or via the International Airline Training Fund. A particular focus for IATA going forward is engaging more women in the aviation workforce.
“With conscious capacity development initiatives we are confident that Africa will have a well-trained and diverse workforce to power the industry forward,” said Kuuchi.
The IATA Special Envoy emphasised that the prospects for aviation growth are bright in Africa. “It is a region that is developing fast and expanding its trade links to markets around the world. Profitability will come when airlines are freed from political constraints, and the continent’s skies are opened up to encourage growth. Already safety and security challenges are been reduced through rigorous application of global standards,” Kuuchi concluded.