According to the latest IATA forecast, African airlines face post-tax losses in the region of US$200 million in 2020, thus the financial agony of the previous years continues
What is needed to get the industry out of the doldrums are radical changes taken collectively across borders in order to liberalize pan-African passenger and cargo air services.
Yet, so far there have only been political declarations of intent.
“Our industry dares to think big in order to build a better and more prosperous future!” Words exclaimed by Abderahmane Berthe, Secretary General of the African Airlines Association
during the latest TIACA meet in Budapest, Hungary on November 20, 2019.
An almost desperate wake-up call in view of the pitiable situation into which the African aviation sector has maneuvered itself over many years despite stern warnings by experts, negatively affecting both passenger and cargo flows.
The reason why aviation on the continent is making very slow progress, apart from a few positive exceptions such as Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines or small but highly efficient Kenyan freight carrier Astral Aviation, is best exemplified by the pitiful fate of the 1988 decided Yamoussoukro Declaration.
Initially meant as a clear signal of a new dynamic to create a Single African Sky and a liberalized air traffic environment, it generally disappeared from the agenda in subsequent years and was only briefly pulled out of the drawer for international conferences or similarly prestigious events.
Ongoing structural problems
The result: African air traffic remains extremely fragmented, limited by national egoisms and forced into the corset of insufficient regulatory frameworks. “Our airlines continue to suffer many structural problems caused by high costs, owing to high government taxes and local fees, leading to low load factors,” AFRAA head Berthe stated regretfully during TIACA’s latest Executive Summit in Budapest.
What is missing in particular are sufficient intra-African connections affordable for average earners, frequently linking destinations such as Lagos, Kinshasa, Lusaka, Kigali or Luanda, to name but a few. “The African population is growing fast and there is a lot of transport demand, but the aviation sector falls short of this dynamic development,” the AFRAA official bemoaned.
State subsidiaries cement structural and operational shortcomings
Africa is home to almost 17% of the world’s population (Europe 10%, North America 4.7% in comparison), but it accounts for less than 3% of the global air service market.
This discrepancy dates back to the early 1960s, when many newly independent African states created national airlines, in part, to assert their status as nations. So, no wonder that ten governments failed to sign the Yamoussoukro Declaration, with other signatories refusing to implement the scheme.
Yet, a process of rethinking African aviation matters has meanwhile begun, AFRAA’s Mr Berthe confirmed, following the disappearance of long-term subsidized national carriers due to ongoing high losses. Most governments have realized that the strict regulatory protection that sustains such airlines, inflates pax fares as well as cargo rates on transcontinental routes, thus considerably dampening air traffic growth.
Good things need time
However, rapid changes for the implementation of the aspired Single African Sky, liberalizing air traffic on the continent, are not to be expected. At least there are cautious steps taken in this direction, evidenced exactly two years ago when the African Union (AU) launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) as one of the AU Agenda 2063 flagship projects.
The SAATM is the full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration. African governments signing the SAATM commit to fully implementing the YD within the next 43 years.
That is 75 years after the original scheme to create an Open African Sky in order to fully liberalize air traffic between Cairo and Cape Town, Dar es Salaam and Dakar, was initially tabled. True to the motto: Good things take time!
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