African airlines urged to consider merger of national carriers to boost aviation

Image: People Daily

AFRICA – Some African countries are deliberating on merging their national carriers to take advantage of economies of scale and make them competitive in the global market.

The talks also include eliminating visa fees within the continent, simplifying immigration rules, improving air connectivity infrastructure, and making airport charges affordable within Africa’s 54 countries.

To boost Africa free trade and promote tourism sector that is reeling from the adverse effects of Covid-19 pandemic, big African airlines such as Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air and South African Airways have been urged to merge and form the best continental airline, build intra-African routes and networks to enhance continental connectivity within the 54 countries.

Leading the talks are Kenya’s Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala, Moroccan Airports Authority general manager Zouhair Mohammed, Zimbambwe’s Civil Aviation Authority marketing manager Sarudzai Muza, African aviation and tourism affairs expert Jon Howell, Tourism, Trade and Investment Promotion Agency for Cape Town and the Western Cape chief executive officer Tim Harris and Ghanaian politician Samuel Binfoh.

They spoke on November 19 during a webinar on tourism recovery.

But lack of open skies policy among the African states has been cited as a hindrance to fostering competition in the global airline business.

Other challenges the continent faces include stereotypes on travel advisories, poverty, and diseases such as Ebola.

The forum decried lack of support in the implementation of open skies policy, which they said holds the key to realising the potential of the aviation sector.

The Yamoussoukro declaration endorsed by 44 members of the African Union in 1999 allowed for open skies among most African countries but it is yet to be implemented.

It is only South Africa and Morocco that have successfully implemented it.

“The Yamoussoukro declaration is good, but it is only on papers. We need real open skies and intra-Africa connectivity like Europe. We have seen 8.2 percent growth in Morocco despite the many crisis including economic crisis in Europe. Opening the skies needs preparation and it is beneficial for the country. The main step that we must take as Africa is creating real open skies

Mr Mohammed said all airlines can open routes in any destination.

If Africa wants to succeed, noted Mr Mohammed, it needs to have associations of airlines and economic groups that can be connected to regions.

“This is the only remedy. To succeed we must be focused on our goals and objectives. In 2019, Morocco had over 25 million passengers,” added the Moroccan Airports Authority general manager.

He said the country boasts of 25 airports, out of which 19 are international.

“Morocco decided to completely reopen its skies to Europe which is a huge step.

The growth of air traffic we have seen this last year is huge numbers bringing positive effects on economic and tourism sectors.

It is also bringing new opportunities in different sectors compared to fifteen years ago when Casablanca was connected to Africa with two flights a week,” said Mr Mohammed.

He said Morocco signed the open skies policy with Europe in 2006 to develop its tourism.

“We should emulate South African and Moroccan module to start brainstorming and coordinating private sector to invest in the airports and marketing strategy.”

The African tourism and aviation players also deliberated on restoring Air Route Networks for secondary hubs in Africa.

“We should create intra-African travel and connectivity. No visa for the continent, simplify immigration rules within the airports,” said Mr Balala.

“We want efficiency. Not everything must be run by the government; private sector must come in and bolster public-private partnership to strengthen efficiency,” he added.

He lamented exorbitant air tickets on the continent urging the airlines to make them affordable.

“Africa air transport is perceived to be luxury for the elite. It should be a public requirement like the train and buses. It is time for governments to seriously give support package for air travel. Tourism will not recover without air travel,” he said.

The miister said Kenya’s international tourism arrivals have gone down by 65 percent from January to October due to the pandemic, adding that cargo business is an emerging opportunity that airlines should tap into.

Mr Balala cited Lufthansa airline that is ready to start transporting vaccines.

“What have we done to start making plans such as that? How do we build capacity to ensure our local airlines seize the opportunities instead of waiting for foreign airlines to grab the prospects?” he posed.

Mr Howell said Africa should stop relying on intercontinental traffic as he called for initiatives to drive intra-Africa trade and tourism.

“The pandemic has illustrated the importance of air connectivity to African governments. This is an industry that is a key enabler, that will play a key role in the recovery. States have been forced to focus on building domestic and regional connectivity and tourism. New players like Airlink have changed their strategy and are eyeing more African destinations like Tanzania,” he added.

He urged destinations to support airlines in the recovery.

“Airlines are a destination’s most important customer. Destinations will be forced to adopt a more professional approach to route development,” stressed Mr Howell.

Mr Balala said 2020 was supposed to be Kenya’s best tourism year but the pandemic has adversely affected the sector.

He urged African governments to promote secondary hubs in Africa citing the success story in Cape town, Johannesburg, Marrakech and Sri Lanka.

Mr Balala said Africa needs a clear strategy to create air transport as a means of connectivity.

“Some airlines are collapsing… we must merge the airlines to be competitive. Why don’t we start investing now and resolve the issues,” said Mr Balala.

Ms Muza said Zimbabwe’s strategy is to create collaborations with African airports, and approach airlines to fly to their destinations.

She cited Cape Town, Rwanda and Mombasa among tourism key destinations the Southern African country is eyeing.

“Collaborations and success stories from Morocco should be emulated especially on open skies policy,” she said.

Mr Binfoh said Ghana has taken a bold step to create a second hub for international air travel in Kumasi which is the country’s second biggest city in Ghana, which previously lacked air connectivity.

“Some US$300 has been set by the government to develop the airport whose process started in 2018 and will be finalised in 2021. It will take care of 1 million passengers a year. The expansion project will house Boeing 737. It will boost trade and business in Kumasi which is our trade centre in Ghana,” he said, adding that once the project is completed it will boost the economy, particularly tourism.

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