Authorities Urge African States To Reject Aviation Protectionism

 - February 27, 2019, 10:52 AM

Government officials and airline CEOs urged African states to abolish protectionist aviation regulation while addressing delegates at the Aviation Africa Summit and Exhibition in Kigali on Wednesday.

Opening the annual event, Rwandan President Paul Kagame called protectionism a shortsighted policy that serves only to keep the African market fragmented, inefficient, and expensive, thereby reducing opportunities for African firms.

“Sixteen countries in Africa are landlocked, including Rwanda—that is almost one-third of Africa—but every country is air-linked,” he said. “So, geography should not be seen as an excuse for underdevelopment. This highlights the importance of regional integration where there have been some notable achievements over the past year; chief among these is the Single African Air Transport Market...However, the full promise of this pact only becomes apparent in the wider context of the African Continental Free Trade Area and the Protocol of the Free Movement of Persons, which were also signed last year.”

Kagami cited an industry analysis that calculated the requirement for new aircraft in Africa over the “coming generation” at more than 1,000 units valued at more than $150 billion. “That means there will be many more high-quality jobs for African pilots, engineers, and service personnel to operate and maintain this equipment professionally, and above all, safely.”

The Minister of Infrastructure and Transport for Togo, Zoureutou Tchankouda Kassa-Traore, joined Kagame in calling on African states who have signed the commitment to “implement without delay.”

“There is no doubt about the benefits to our states from the full implementation of SAATM,” said Kassa-Traore. “By integrating our air routes and opening up the African skies with the implementation of SAATM, we are broadening the paths of growth and development of our continent.”

Also speaking at the conference, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker called Africa an underserved market. Although Africa’s 1.3 billion people amount to 16 percent of the world’s population, they also account for only 2.5 percent of the total number of global air travelers.

“Africa’s current performance in aviation does not reflect the potential of this great continent has,” said Al Baker. “For that potential to be realized, we need to turn the page on the old culture of protected hubs, which has produced weak aviation infrastructure, high air fares, and poor connectivity. Going forward we need to support the successful implementation of regional initiatives to improve Africa’s position in the areas of economic integration, trade, human capital, and tourism development.” 

Al Baker noted that Africa could represent Qatar Airways’ next growth market, but what he calls an illegal airspace blockade of his country in the Gulf has hampered its plan to expand further into western and central Africa. “The additional range that we should fly will not make the routes commercially viable,” he explained.  

He advised African states to consolidate and collaborate among themselves and with his country in investing in MROs, education, and training.