Nick Fadugba’s prognosis is all the more telling given the scathing assessment of Africa’s airport infrastructure and management made by Dr. Titus Naikuni, group managing director and chief executive officer, Kenya Airways, at the Routes Africa 2013 Summit in Uganda in July. He told them to pull their socks up.
“I am reminded of an East European leader who is reported to have once been asked by a reporter to use one word to explain how his economy was doing, and he said, ‘Good.’ ‘Use more than one word to explain how your economy is doing,’ [said the reporter] and he said: ‘Not good.’ Today I am not going to talk about good airports, or bad airports, or not so good airports, so don’t panic that I am going to speak about any airport.”
Naikuni went on to vent his frustrations at the difficulties posed for African airlines by having to make use of African airports. “If I were to go into a particular destination as an airline, what would I be looking for?” He set out a safe environment, security and costs as his chief concerns.
“[I need] a safe environment in Africa; a safe environment where I land and a safe environment where I take my passengers. I need an airport that will guarantee me security. We see a lot of people with badges in most African airports and wonder who these people are.”
He criticized Africa’s airports for problems with immigration. “[In most airports I need to go] from office to office to sort out [immigration] problems as an airline or passenger. I don’t care. I am coming to your country. Sort yourselves out and have one person I have to deal with when I have an issue.”
He said that all the participants needed to sit down and work out what processes and attendant costs were necessary. “What is it that we don’t require? What is it that is unnecessary in the airport that I am coming to? Is it that we as an airline don’t put what is required on the table?
“You come out of an airport and the first thing that hits you is a very long traffic jam,” he said. “Until you solve that problem, and solve it soon, visitors will avoid your countries. You do Abu Dhabi to Dubai in an hour. In Africa, the same distance takes three to four hours.
“You need investors into Africa. The day we make sure that the investment climate starts from the airport itself, and people know where to go and you don’t have [endless] meetings that don’t have conclusions…until then, nobody’s going to come.”
Naikuni said the advent of the Chinese was the “best” and “worst” thing that had happened to Africa. “Whether you like it or not, [the Chinese] are coming to Africa. Tell me which airport in Africa that has any writing or directions in Chinese? How do you expect someone to come from China for tourism or investment when you don’t even communicate or give them directions on arrival?
“Just ask yourself: if you don’t do it, who will do it?” he said. “If we don’t move away from calling a spade a spoon…or digging equipment, [we need to] call it a spade, in Africa.”