What African aviation industry should do to transform and advance air travel

by Mmeeme Leticia Luweze
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The African aviation industry, comprising 357 airlines, plays a crucial role in the continent’s economic activities. The aviation industry supports 7.7 million jobs and $63 billion in African economic activity. That is 2.2% of all employment and 2.7% of all GDP in African countries in 2018.

The 55th Annual General Assembly (AGA) of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) held at the Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala, Uganda, from November 19th to 21st, took a central focus on discussions geared towards advancing the aviation industry for developmental purposes. This assembly, marking a significant milestone in its 55th edition, provided a key platform for exploring strategic initiatives to propel the industry forward in its developmental objectives.

Hosted by Uganda Airlines under the patronage of the Government of Uganda, this year’s AGA attracted a global audience, with 569 delegates registering for the meeting. Among them, 119 represented 25 AFRAA member airlines, with 13 CEOs participating. The assembly also saw the presence of observers from 34 African non-AFRAA member airlines.

In Uganda, the event was graced by different dignitaries namely Vice President Jessica Alupo, the Minister of Works, Gen. Katumba Wamala, and the Uganda Airlines Chief Executive Officer, Jennifer Bamuturaki among others.

In her introductory speech, Jennifer Bamuturaki, CEO of Uganda Airlines and President of this 55th Assembly, said:

“We welcome you to enter this final lap with Uganda Airlines on our journey into the 55th AFRAA Annual Assembly. Uganda Airlines is the youngest airline to host this assembly. We have been in Space for just four years and we are very proud to bring this Assembly home. This is a great example of how our fortunes are fused, and with hundreds of guests, this is an opportunity for all our brands to demonstrate how we can stand together and domesticate value.”

During his speech, Gen. Katumba Wamala highlighted the prevailing challenges in the aviation industry caused by COVID-19, stressing the urgency of intelligent strategies and collaborative efforts to tackle issues such as airspace disruptions and operational costs. He advocated for practical solutions and immediate action on initiatives aimed at enhancing the viability of African aviation, specifically addressing concerns related to visas on the continent.

With various restrictions that were imposed in international markets, airlines based in smaller domestic markets faced distinct challenges in the recovery process. A research paper titled “The State of Africa’s Air Transport Market amid COVID-19, and Forecasts for Recovery” illuminated the severe economic impact of the pandemic on the aviation industry. It highlighted that COVID-19 had multilayered impacts on African economies and the aviation industry, resulting in lost traffic and revenues, as well as uncertain prospects. This substantial decline in air travel left airlines uncertain about the prospect of regaining passengers.

During the Assembly, AFRAA General Secretary, Abderahmane Berthe, expressed gratitude for the presence of key dignitaries and industry partners, acknowledging their collective efforts in supporting the aviation sector’s recovery from COVID-19 challenges. He further emphasized the industry’s pivotal role in Africa’s economic development and reiterated AFRAA’s commitment to promoting and serving African Airlines.

Highlighting the theme of the assembly, Berthe noted that it underscores the call for cooperation and innovation to foster a robust and sustainable aviation landscape in Africa. In a reflection of recent achievements, Berthe shared that in 2022, African Airlines achieved an impressive milestone by carrying 67 million passengers, marking an extraordinary 55.8% growth Year on Year. Despite this progress, he emphasized that the scale of global impact remains modest, constituting only 2% of the total global air traffic.

Berthe further delved into key figures, noting that the average Passenger Load Factor for the region in 2022 reached 71.6%, marking a notable 10.6% increase from the previous year. However, he pointed out that this figure falls short of the global average by 7%, underlining both the regional advancements and the broader aspirations yet to be realized.

According to the African Development Bank, Air travel is essential to the prosperity of Africa as it opens up opportunities that did not exist before. Fostering the African aviation industry may be one of the driving forces of regional integration on the continent. Better connected African countries and regions through a viable air transport industry could be the catalyst that can boost intra-African business, trade, tourism as well and cultural exchange. Developing the aviation industry may also represent an opportunity to mitigate chronic transport problems faced by the 16 landlocked African countries.

While giving her speech, Vice President Jessica Alupo noted that Air Transport is a critical enabler, which Africa cannot do without because rail and road infrastructure lack due coverage for interstate movement. She added that as Africa pursues the goal of continental integration, it will be important to focus on growing Air transport for ease of intra-Africa connectivity.

Echoing similar sentiments, Hassan El-Houry, CEO of National Aviation Services, and Eric Kacou, co-founder of Entrepreneurial Solutions Partners, pointed out in their book, ‘Fly Africa: How Aviation Can Generate Prosperity Across the Continent,’ that Africa’s aviation sector faces numerous challenges, including weak infrastructure, poor connectivity, high ticket prices, and low passenger volumes. They provided solutions crucial for the industry to take off.

Expanding on the economic impact, Eric Kacou noted in his book that the aviation sector creates jobs in both direct and indirect ways, further emphasizing the multifaceted benefits the industry can bring to the continent.

To add more insights, the authors stress the pivotal role of governance and privatization in successful aviation models across the continent. They advocate for proper governance structures, such as autonomous airport authorities and effective boards for national carriers. The privatization of key aviation components is also highlighted as a successful model, fostering partnerships and attracting foreign investments.

Furthermore, Kacou and El-Houry underscore that successful African countries view their aviation sector as an integral part of their economic strategy. They emphasize the importance of linking aviation to other growth-driving sectors like tourism, trade, and exports. This holistic approach, they argue, is crucial for the continent’s aviation sector to mature and become a driver of economic growth.

The Annual General Assembly (AGA) serves as a major gathering for aviation professionals, industry stakeholders, and representatives from member airlines across Africa. This year’s assembly featured presentations and panel discussions on some of the topical industry subjects by airline CEOs and reputable industry resource persons.  It had an exhibition of products, solutions, and the latest technologies in aviation by reputable service providers from across the world.

The Annual General Assembly (AGA) is organized by the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) on a yearly basis. The African Airlines Association (AFRAA) is the leading trade association of airlines that hail from the nations of the African Union. Founded in Accra, Ghana, in 1968, the AFRAA envisions a sustainable, interconnected, and affordable Air Transport industry in Africa where African Airlines become key players and drivers of African economic development. The AFRAA has a membership of  50 airlines that cuts across the entire continent and includes all the major intercontinental African operators. The Association members represent over 85% of total international traffic carried by African airlines.

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