Five African countries have blocked from repatriation more than $413 million of international airlines’ revenues as of March 31, 2019, creating a continued threat of reductions or total loss of air service. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Zimbabwe holds $192 million, Sudan $84 million, Algeria $80 million, Eritrea $73 million, and Angola $7 million.
Briefing reporters in Seoul, Muhammad Ali Albakri, IATA’s regional vice president Africa and the Middle East, reported that the association has established a special task force consisting of member airlines to address the issue. “We directly engage with governments, central banks, and ministers of finance in those countries,” Albakri said. “The director general himself travels to these countries to speak to the highest authority. In July he will travel to Zimbabwe to meet the president and specifically discuss the issue of blocked funds.”
According to Albakri, last year IATA managed to get more than $500 million dollars released from Angola. Egypt and Nigeria have also cleared a huge sum of blocked funds. However, the issue has emerged in new markets, creating a sort of revolving door. “We put out the fire in some places and it flares up in another place,” he said. “It seems a never-ending issue. We will continue working with governments, central banks and ministry of finance and we will continue lobbying.
“Cash flow is a lifeline to the airlines,” Albakri continued. “If these problems persist airlines will reduce their flight frequencies to these countries and may even pull out. This would eventually impact air connectivity in Africa.”
Presenting a report to IATA’s annual general meeting, director general Alexandre de Juniac said that excluding Venezuela, the backlog of funds awaiting repatriation declined by 11 percent. “Clearing $620 million in Angola and $251 million in Nigeria were major contributors to that achievement,” said de Juniac.
Worldwide, by the end of 2018 total blocked funds stood at $4.36 billion, $3.8 billion of which remains held by politically unstable Venezuela.