Just prior to this year’s NBAA convention, the African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA) held its first regional symposium in Marrakech, Morocco. A range of topics was discussed, highlighting not only the many issues that face business aviation as it grows on the continent, but also the strides that have been made by AfBAA itself since it was launched at EBACE in May last year. Since that time the association has grown quickly and now numbers about 50 members, who include OEMs, operators, support companies and FBOs, together representing a broad spectrum of the business aviation world.
AfBAA faces numerous issues in its role of supporting and expanding the role of business aviation in Africa. Many of the challenges come from the fragmented nature of Africa’s constituent states, political instability in some countries, a lack of standardization and a perception from the outside of questionable safety and quality. There is also the size and terrain of the continent itself, which combines with a lack of infrastructure to bring its own unique problems.
“There are no highways that link us, no roads,” asserted Tarek Ragheb, founding chairman of AfBAA. “The only option we have is air transportation, through both commercial and private means. Business aviation is the vehicle that will improve economies in the region.”
Among the organization’s tasks are to foster greater alignment between African nations and to educate African governments about the value of business aviation to their economies, especially as support to the growing oil/gas and mineral resources industries and as a vehicle to convey inwards investment. “We’re a very serious player in the advocacy of business aviation to African states,” Ragheb told AIN. “We need to do many things, but where do we start?”
Arguing the case for business aviation in Africa can be difficult: unlike in Europe where there is relative unanimity regarding standards, all of Africa’s 54 countries have separate requirements and legislations. AfBAA is developing a road show to take around to the civil aviation authorities of the continent, and is also taking every chance to meet and influence larger groups of states.
One vehicle is the African Union. In January the AfBAA is to take a seat as an observer during the African Union’s fifth committee on transportation. For the AfBAA this is a significant step. “It’s a great forum to get all the authorities in the regulatory environment together in one place at one time,” explained Ragheb.
The AfBAA is also launching an air show to be held next April in Morocco. The AfBAA Expo builds on the former Marrakech air show, which was mainly a military show, by adding a major exhibition of business aircraft and operators, providing another forum for the promotion of business aviation in the continent.
When asked in which area Ragheb would like the initial focus of effort to be concentrated, he replied simply, “Safety is paramount.” Of all the issues facing the AfBAA, the perception of Africa’s poor safety record is the one that stands most in the way of the industry, with its knock-on effects on the cost of insuring and financing aircraft. While horrific figures are being touted for civil aviation, such as 50 percent of the world’s accidents for just 3 percent of global traffic, the continent’s business aviation sector does not show appreciably worse figures than for other regions. However, the stigma is one that is difficult to shake off.
One answer lies in the potential creation of AfBAA-accredited standards for services and operations. If such standards can be implemented, they immediately provide a discriminator between the AfBAA’s member companies and similarly reputable companies, and other potentially less professional outfits. Such a move would likely begin from the bottom up, by initially introducing standards for ground handling and fuel supply before moving on to more complex operations and services.
“There is no African reluctance to address safety issues,” added Nick Fadugba of African Aviation, but he suggested, “We need to address fragmented regulatory standards. The African Union should be as knowledgeable and outspoken as the EU is in Europe. Africa doesn’t need a handout, it needs a hand-up to reach internationals standards.”