The Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) has called for greater cooperation between countries, policy-makers and industry in order to liberalise air transport across Africa in an effort to drive economic growth.
Addressing AASA’s annual general assembly in Cape Town today, the association’s CEO, Chris Zweigenthal, urged African governments to adopt new visa rules, open their markets to investment and competition, to implement the internationally-benchmarked aviation safety standards agreed at the African Union and to align their emissions policies with multilaterally agreed measures to address climate change.
Zweigenthal said that while Africa was home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies and about 12% of the world’s population, the continent would ideally need to raise its share of global air traffic from 3% to 12% if airlines to enable and sustain economic growth.
This would require 27% growth in air traffic annually over the next 10 years, or, if the target was halved, 18% annual growth over the same period to attain a 6% market share.
“This indicates the size of the task if we want to attain parity with our international competitors. But these targets seem to be unrealistic given the current dynamics of our industry. We cannot spread our wings when we are constrained by conservative government policies,” Zweigenthal said.
On one hand, high input costs, notably jet fuel, which today accounts for between 30% – 40% of airlines’ direct operating costs, together with inflated user fees charged on infrastructure and a range of other taxes, compound the challenge, deter travel, dampen demand for air freight and ultimately hinder economic growth, AASA said.
On the other hand, many African governments stubbornly cling to closed and regulated market regimes and exercise inconsistent immigration requirements. These restrict investment, block competition and hamper trade and the development of air transport. The slow implementation of safety improvements and other failures stifle economic growth by increasing the costs of doing business and trading, according to the Association.
“We need to work closely together to harmonize fragmented regional markets so that we can derive and share the greater socio-economic benefits that liberalised trade and air transport would deliver,” added Zweigenthal.
“When it comes to keeping costs down, in South Africa there is a renewed sense of understanding of the requirement between the airlines, Airports Company South Africa, Air Traffic Navigation Services, SA Weather Services and the SA Civil Aviation Authority, but we need to translate this cooperation into realistic results with mutual benefits and re-balanced rewards. As we prove the success of this approach, the template could permeate throughout Africa.
“Liberalisation as a comprehensive African initiative, has stalled…With the lack of cooperation between States, many African airlines have not grown to the extent that they can compete internationally,” he added.