Ms Maureen Kahonge, senior manager of business development at African Airlines Association, spoke to Berna Namata on what ails the aviation sector and what can be done about it.
Africa is littered with many small airlines, operating sub-optimally. Are there opportunities for consolidation and how should it be approached?
Airlines are constantly developing innovative ways to drive partnership benefits and African airlines should be no exception. The partnership options available are diverse and sometimes complex, involving increasingly integrated structures that require careful consideration and upfront due diligence. The extent to which African airlines have progressed along the partnership continuum varies.
Africa has seen a growing number of equity partnerships and management contracts (Ethiopian Airlines-ASKY, Precision Air-Kenya Airways, etc.) as small airlines seek commercial, technical and management expertise from more established carriers within or outside Africa. Closer collaboration and consolidation among African carriers is viewed by many as a mechanism to overcome some of the challenges of the sustainability of airlines in the continent.
Whereas Africa represents less than 3 percent of global air traffic, over the past 15 years, the continent has had the lowest level of market consolidation compared with other regions.
In September 2021, AFRAA, in collaboration with Lufthansa Consulting and Kenya Airways held a workshop on airline consolidation. The workshop outcomes revealed that consolidation and collaboration are crucial to the success of African airlines. The engagement of states, airlines and all the relevant stakeholders is necessary to achieve the required outcomes on airline consolidation in Africa effectively.
There’s an argument that intra-African air traffic has a disproportionately high number of repeat travellers. What are the sources of potential new traffic, and beyond Single African Air Transport Market, what must governments do to free it up?
The economic growth, tourism and intra-African trade potentials are good new traffic opportunities in the intra-African air transport market. Trade and tourism support air transport, and efficient services generate additional tourism development. In other liberalised markets, intra-regional trade led to increased traffic.
Trade and air transport have a symbiotic relationship and are closely linked. Air transport and trade sectors are modest within Africa. Policymakers have adopted the SAATM and AfCFTA as flagship programmes; stakeholders need to work smart to boost these sectors.
Air transport is among the priority services sectors selected as the subjects of the first round of liberalisation under the AfCFTA trade-in services negotiations. A well-functioning air transport service sector also delivers positive effects on intra-African passenger travel that is likely to spark growth in education, healthcare, and tourism services.
There are still many safety gaps at the airline and aviation service providers’ levels across Africa. What is the current trajectory?
In the 1990s and early 2000s, African aviation safety records were challenging. In July 2012, the African Ministers responsible for civil aviation at the Ministerial Conference on Aviation Safety in Africa adopted realistic, achievable, and quantifiably measurable safety milestones through the Abuja Declaration on Aviation Safety, which set the Abuja Aviation Safety Targets. Since 2012, aviation stakeholders have been attentive to programmes geared to achieve the adopted safety targets. Since 2014, the Regional Aviation Safety Group for Africa-Indian Ocean has monitored the regional safety results and published African aviation safety risks in an annual aviation safety report.
The regional strategy is to control the number of three accident categories: loss of control in flight (LOC-I), controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), and runway-related accidents. The safety performance trends are encouraging. In 2016, none of these accidents occurred on commercial flights with aeroplanes above 5.7 tonnes. From 2016 to 2021, the region recorded one LOC-I and zero CFIT occurrences. However, runway excursions remain challenging worldwide.
Why do runway excursions remain challenging in Africa?
Runway Safety events are preponderant worldwide, not specific to Africa. With enhanced Africa’s safety performance that was recorded between 2016 and 2018, the continent was at par with the global performance during this period with no CFIT accidents recorded from 2015 to 2019.
To address this and progressively reduce the African accident rate to align with the global average, the implementation of Abuja Safety targets is critical to improving aviation safety. Target 1 for instance, was to progressively reduce the accident rate from 8.6 to 2.5 per million departures by the end of 2022 with particular attention to CFIT and LOCI-related occurrences.
It is also important for all states to establish and strengthen autonomous Civil Aviation Authorities with independent regulatory oversight, sustainable sources of funding and resources to carry out effective safety oversight and regulation of the aviation industry – this is also among the Abuja Safety Targets.
Also, a group of safety professionals have established Aviation Safety Alliance for Africa to assist in safety improvement in Africa through partnership. The first activity of the Alliance was dedicated to promoting the establishment of effective Runway Safety Teams at airports in Africa.