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THE LEADING JOURNAL IN GLOBAL CNS/ATM COVERAGE

VOLUME 2 NUMBER 1, 2024

Africa: In Pursuit of Aviation Safety and Efficiency

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But, the question should not be about whether industry stakeholders are making spirited efforts to rejig African aviation. Rather, the question should be whether adequate and sustainable steps are being taken to actually grasp the nettle.

The sustainability and adequacy of any attempt at refocusing African aviation, perhaps, will be determined by the operational elements of the aviation industry. The air transport operational realm is known to be characteristically cyclical aside from being highly capital intensive. What’s more: aviation is a technology-savvy industry. And so, the availability of modern technology and the capacity and ability of African aviation to acquire the needed technology are critical determinants. So, the question is one that would continue to revolve around how versed the African aviation realm is when it comes to determining and acquiring appropriate technologies as well as selecting appropriate techniques.

“The African aviation landscape is very much versed in operational aspects and what technologies are appropriate to respond to the environment the industry finds itself in,” says Sam Mahlangu, the International Federation of Air Traffic Safety Electronics Associations (IFATSEA) African Regional Director. “There is, however, an opportunity to relook at the strategy of technology acquisition and deployment. There seems to be a worrying trend of high reliance on systems that are acquired from well-established institutions and less focus on development of industry solutions that would fit our African environment. We are almost continuing with the trajectory of being technology adopters and not so many developers. The talent is there and equally capable of innovating and contributing to the body of knowledge, given the necessary resources and capital to enter these frontiers.”

To be sure, clear differences exist in the African aviation landscape along regional and national lines. These differences also cut across a wide spectrum of operational, technical and regulatory areas. This scenario, perhaps, may be a reflection of the quantum of efforts being expended by African aviation stakeholders in terms of the growth and sustainability of aviation operations in their respective jurisdictions.

The availability of the required wherewithal may also be playing a critical role. In terms of air traffic passenger share per region, for example, the Airports Council International (ACI), in its “Air Traffic Performance for Africa 2022”, paints the following scenario: West Africa (16%), Central Africa (1%), East Africa (17%), North Africa (45%), and South Africa (21%). On a country-by-country basis, the ACI 2022 ranking listed top five African countries with Egypt leading with 37,942,427 passengers, followed by South Africa, Morocco, Nigeria, and Kenya with 30,087.353 passengers, 20,549,844 passengers, 14,193,600 passengers, and 8,957,594 passengers respectively.

 

 

 

LIBERALISATION OF AFRICAN AVIATION MARKETS

Africa is currently home to over 1.48 billion people – representing about 17.9% of the total world population and up from the 1.21 billion figure recorded for 2016 – with a population density of 49 Km2 and a total land area of 29.65 million Km2. Despite accounting for about 17.9 percent of world’s total population, the African continent contributed, as at June 2023, just 2.1% share of the global passenger traffic in the last 12 months, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The Vice President of Africa for Qatar Airways, Hendrik du Preez, also reechoed this percentage point in a recent press statement.

According to IATA, Africa’s paltry 2.1% share is in spite of the continent accounting for a 34.7% surge in passenger traffic over the same period of time. But all seems not to be lost for African aviation if Boeing’s projection that domestic passenger air traffic in Africa will more than quadruple in the next 20 years is anything to hold on to. The US front-runner aircraft manufacturing giant, in its 2023 Commercial Market Outlook, pegs the forecast for Africa’s domestic air traffic growth at 7.4%, which is far above the global average of 6.1 percent. In its “Air Traffic Performance for Africa 2022”, the Airports Council International (ACI) also reports that passenger traffic for African airports has continued to rise in 2022 compared to 2021 (+56%), although this still falls below the 2019 traffic level (-22%). “In terms of total passengers and aircraft movements (ATMs), the third quarter of 2022 has witnessed the highest figures at 51,696,274 passengers and 712,518 ATMs respectively,” ACI notes in the 2022 report. “However, in terms of traffic recovery compared to 2019, the fourth quarter of 2022 has witnessed the highest rate of recovery at 85% for passengers and 82% for ATMs.”

Liberalisation movements have a long history in Africa where the aviation industry is still pretty young, whether on the intra-African or the inter-African fronts. In 2006, for example, the Kingdom of Morocco inked an Open Skies agreement with the European Union. In 2000, Kenya and the Republic of South Africa signed a liberalised air services agreement culminating, in 2003, in the removal of all forms of restrictions on capacity. In 2005, Ethiopia inked an Open Skies agreement with the United States of America. Confirming the gains that liberalisation has brought for the Kingdom of Morocco’s aviation spheres, Dr. Sallami Chougdali, Head of Laboratories Management Unit at the Moroccan Airports Authority’s Mohammed VI International Academy of Civil Aviation in Casablanca, says: “The Civil Aviation Authority confirms that the policy of liberalizing the aviation sector has led to the entry of many foreign companies into the Moroccan airspace alongside national players, including low-cost airlines. Indeed, more than 51 companies offer scheduled flights to Morocco, including 19 low-cost airlines, and this has enabled especially the Mohammed V Airport to position itself as an international and regional hub, offering flights to some 98 international airports and 54 countries on four continents.”

Talking about the availability of the necessary instruments for upscaling aviation operations, Africa is comfortably home to a long line-up of decisions, declarations, treaties, collaborative arrangements, and policies institutionalized for the purpose of liberalising or simply upscaling the continent’s transportation markets following the realisation of the socio-economic benefits of transportation in general and aviation in particular. It will, therefore, be far from the truth to blame the challenges confronting the African aviation realms on a lack of initiatives because there is a long line-up of these initiatives. The truth, of course, is that quite a number of these initiatives have exhibited much more glamour in terms of their theatricality than their practicability and sustainability.

Let’s take, for example, that potentially revolutionary initiative called the Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD) of 1988, whose primary intent is the liberalisation of access to intra-African and inter-African air transport markets through air services deregulation. In September 1994, the decisions of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Aviation was adopted in Mauritius in order to pay the way for the acceleration of the implementation of the YD. This was followed up with the adoption, in November of 1999, of the Yamoussoukro Decision with 44 signatory countries. The Yamoussoukro Decision established the arrangement among State Parties for the gradual liberalisation of scheduled and non-scheduled intra-African air transport services. On 12 July, 2000, the Assembly of the AU Heads of State and Government further endorsed the YD in Lomé, Togo whilst also granting the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) the mandate to serve as the Executing Agency in an attempt to ensure coordinated and meaningful implementation of the Declaration.

 

There is also the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative, which was established on 28 January, 2018 during the 30th Ordinary Session of the African Union (AU) Assembly held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Essentially one of the flagship projects of the AU Agenda 2063 (dubbed the Africa We Want) adopted by AU Heads of State and Government during the 24th Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly, SAATM is intended to quicken the pace of implementation of the YD in order to enhance air connectivity, induce competition in air services, and grow the African tourism landscape with potential contributions to the promotion of job creation, economic growth and socio-cultural integration across the continent. In this vein, SAATM is effectively an evolution from the Yamoussoukro Decision. Aside from YD and SAATM, there are also regional and sub-regional economic initiatives such as the Banjul Accord Group (BAG) for Western and Central Africa, and the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) for the south of Africa.

 THE NORTH AFRICA REGION

North Africa has witnessed increasing activities in the aviation sector. Countries like Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia have witnessed increased activities. Egypt’s Cairo International Airport, according to Airports Council International (ACI), has been the only African airport in the top ten airports ranking in Africa that has exceeded its 2019 passenger traffic in terms of the evolution of passenger traffic in 2022. ACI reports in its “Air Traffic Performance for Africa 2022” that Cairo International “has been in first place for the past two years, taking over from OR Tambo International Airport of South Africa, which was first in 2019 and was then in second place in 2021 and 2022.” In terms of international passenger for 2022, Cairo International maintains the ACI topmost ranking with 16,452,148 international passengers, representing a 76% change compared to 2021.

Although, it failed to register an appearance in the ACI 2022 ranking in terms of passenger traffic, Tunisia’s Tunis Carthage International Airport clinched the 5th position in the international passenger ranking with 5,346,870 passengers, representing a whopping 109.4% improvement over the 2021 performance. Algeria’s Alger Houari Boumédiene Airport, of course, assumed the 9th position in the passenger traffic ranking (6,317,793 passengers) whilst also settling for the 8th position in terms of international passenger traffic with 4,129,715 passengers, representing a whopping 444.1% improvement over the 2021 performance.