Travelling within Africa can be a pain in the neck. The requirements for visa to other African countries and the unavailability of direct flights connecting most countries and the high cost of air tickets make it almost impossible for most citizens of the continent to travel around.
All these difficulties exist, notwithstanding the fact that there is an African Union Commission, an African passport, a common heritage and countless agreements among countries of Africa.
According to a 2010 World Bank analysis, Africa is home to 12 per cent of the world’s people, but it accounts for less than 1 per cent of the global air service market.
One important agreement meant to facilitate easy and comfortable travel on the continent is the 1990 Yamoussoukro Agreement for open skies. The agreement commits the 44 signatory countries to deregulate air services, and promote regional air markets open to transnational competition.
The call therefore by the African Development Bank (AfDB) on African countries to honour the agreement is in the right direction.
The President of the Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina has noted that while 44 countries have signed the 27-year old accord, it still faces implementation challenges, according to a press release from the Bank copied to ghanabusinessnews.com.
“Rigid bilateral air service agreements have made it difficult to liberalize the regional aviation markets. We must make regional aviation markets competitive and drive down costs, raise efficiencies and improve connectivity and convenience,” Adesina was quoted as saying at the opening ceremony of the third ICAO World Aviation Forum in Abuja Tuesday November 21, 2017.
According to Adesina, air transport promotes trade, investments and tourism, and boosts economic growth.
“Today, Africa’s aviation industry adds $73 billion to the continent’s annual GDP and employs about 7 million people – an average 130,000 people per country in Africa,” he said.
He indicated that the aviation industry is projected to grow by 5 per cent annually for the next 20 years.
“From serving 120 million passengers in 2015, the industry will triple and serve over 300 million passengers by 2035. That’s the good news,” he said, adding that regrettably Africa’s aviation growth is held back by very restrictive regulatory environments which limit market size, profitability, and drive up costs.
He said, “Aircraft departure fees alone in Africa are 30 per cent above the global average, while taxes, fees and charges are 8 per cent higher. Given lower per capita incomes in Africa, high fares essentially tax the poor out of the air! We may have an open sky policy, but then end up with empty skies!”
He therefore called for the development of airport terminal capacity to expand passenger growth, develop regional aviation hubs to improve connectivity, and upgrade air navigational services and air traffic control to improve safety.
“Modern and cheaper technologies such as the satellite based air navigation services now preclude the need for ground infrastructure, and make it possible to serve remote areas with radars. We must also develop within Africa, aircraft maintenance services and strengthen regional and sub-regional aviation safety agencies,” he said.
The Bank further called for bold actions to improve connectivity, market access, and cost reduction in Africa’s aviation sector.
The Bank has also reiterated its commitment to partner with stakeholders to boost the continent’s aviation sector.
Pierre Guislain, the AfDB Vice-President for Private Sector, Infrastructure and Industrialization, also speaking at the forum, emphasized the critical role aviation can play to boost economic growth by integrating the continent’s fragmented markets.
“In the past ten years, AfDB has provide about $1 billion to the African aviation sector. We have invested in airport construction or expansion in Morocco, Tunisia, Cape Verde, Ghana or Kenya, and in the improvement of air safety and navigation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and West and Central Africa,” he said.
“We have also provided financing for aircraft acquisition by Ethiopian Airlines and Air Cote d’Ivoire,” he added.
According to him, despite Africa’s fragmentation with major economic centres geographically far from each other, the low level of connectivity and absence of significant airline hubs remains a real challenge for business people and ordinary Africans.
“We all know that travelling in Africa remains inconvenient and costly. Today, a two and half hour flight from Lilongwe and Johannesburg costs three times more than a similar flight from Rome to London, for example,” he said.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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