The 48th African Airlines Association annual general assembly held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, called African airlines to collaborate and innovate to face the current challenges in the aviation industry. Reji John reports.

More than 400 delegates consisting of airline chief executives, civil aviation and airport authorities, aircraft and engine manufacturers, IT and other service providers gathered in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, to attend the 48th African Airlines Association (AFRAA) annual general assembly. Representatives of IATA, ICAO, the African Union, the African Civil Aviation Authority and senior government officials of Zimbabwe attended the conference.

The general assembly called for collaboration among African airlines to craft innovative solutions to the challenges facing aviation industry. It also called upon states to recognize and appreciate the critical social and economic value of aviation and air transport and urged them to facilitate the sustainable development of the aviation industry.

AFRAA secretary general Elijah Chingosho said that the government of the Republic of Zimbabwe has made remarkable strides in infrastructural development. “These investments facilitate the development of the Republic of Zimbabwe as one of Africa’s most eminent tourist destinations and spur the development of aviation,” he said. He further commended Zimbabwe for being among the 15 States that have declared their solemn commitment to fully open their skies immediately, unconditionally in accordance with the Yamoussoukro Decision and appealed to the remaining African states to join the 15 to help in the realisation of the far-sighted vision of a Single African Aviation market. “This will help spur the development of African aviation which currently accounts for less than 3 percent of global traffic and where intercontinental traffic is dominated by non-African carriers,” he added. In line with the opening up of African skies, he urged governments to remove nonphysical bottlenecks to the movement of people and goods such as restrictive visa regimes and onerous customs clearance procedures.

Ripton Muzenda, CEO of Air Zimbabwe and the president of AFRAA in his speech expressed appreciation to the Government of Zimbabwe’s commitment to the growth and development of aviation in the region which was evidenced by its continued support of its national airline, Air Zimbabwe as well as investments in aviation infrastructure. “On our part as Air Zimbabwe, we have plans to link our own tourism hub – Victoria Falls, JAN - FEB 2017 LUA 17 with the various regional and international source markets as we seek to expand our route network,” Muzenda said.

AFRAA annual general assembly also called upon African governments to release funds they have blocked airlines from repatriating due to a shortage of foreign currency. Chingosho said African countries hit hard by the sharp fall in oil price remain reluctant to release revenues to foreign airlines for repatriation. Chingosho named Angola, Nigeria, Egypt and Sudan as the countries in question. “Nigeria and Egypt have repatriated some funds recently,” he said. “However, it is critical that airlines should be able to fully repatriate their funds,” he said. AFRAA estimates that the four countries continue to withhold some $2 billion in revenues.

Chingosho added that the high cost of fuel in some African countries has also proved a challenge to airlines, despite the oil price decline on the global market. Some international airlines have begun to consider suspending or cutting operations to Nigeria due to the high cost of fuel and the problem with repatriation of funds.

Chingosho said exorbitant fuel tax, airport charges and air ticket tax stand as big challenges facing African airlines. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), African airlines lost $700 million last year. Cumbersome taxes, hefty fuel price and stiff competition with mega international carriers have contributed to the huge loss African airlines are recording, added Chingosho.

Speaking on behalf of IATA, Raphael Kuuchi, its vice president of Africa, said safety and security remains an area of concern in Africa despite significant improvements made in recent years. “Safety and security, high operational cost and regulation issues are some of the hurdles that need to be addressed,” he said.

According to Kuuchi, IATA has supported African airlines’ efforts to improve safety and security records by providing training and assisting their enrollment on the International Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) registry. IATA has increased the number of African airlines the registry from 18 to 32. This year five new African airlines joined the IOSA but four failed to maintain their registration.

“IATA will continue supporting African airlines in areas of safety and security,” Kuuchi assured African delegates. Kuuchi also mentioned declining market share of African airlines and falling oil prices as some of the existing challenges for African nations.

For African aviation industry, 2017 is very important because June 1st is the date set for open skies and 15 countries have committed to implementation of liberalisation process. In fact these countries represent 75 percent of Intra- African passengers and a combined population of 600 million. It has been 29 years since the Yamoussoukro Decision was signed to open the skies in Africa, therefore liberalisation of African skies is long overdue.

The 48th AFRAA annual general assembly elected Mbuvi Ngunze, CEO of Kenya Airways as Chairman of the Executive Committee. Abderahmane Berthé, CEO of Air Burkina was elected the First Vice Chairman while Safwat Musallam, Chairman of EgyptAir Holding Company was elected as second Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee. RwandAir was elected by the 48th AGA as President of AFRAA and host of the 49th AGA in Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, from 12 to 14 November in 2017.

Aviation contributes $72 billion to the continent’s GDP and supports 6.8 million jobs. According to IATA’s recent forecast, Africa’s passenger traffic will grow at a rate of 6.5 percent this year.

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