Editor’s comment: A shining beacon

Regional Gateway editor Chloë Greenbank summarises the latest happenings across airports serving business, regional and low-fare routes.

Having previously described Rwanda as a “bright light for African aviation,” Alan Peaford, chairman, Aviation Africa summit, went a step further this week describing it as a “shining beacon for aviation across the continent.”

Peaford made the comment during his opening speech at the fourth Aviation Africa summit taking place this week in Kigali, Rwanda, where he was joined by the Rwandan president, H.E. Paul Kagame.

Despite being a small, landlocked country, Rwanda has emerged as one of the strongest players on Africa’s aviation market and is actively positioning itself as a regional aviation hub.

“Sixteen countries in Africa are landlocked, including Rwanda – that is almost one third of Africa – but every country is air-linked,” noted president Kagame. “So, geography should not be seen as an excuse for underdevelopment,” he added.

Open skies

The president’s comments highlighted the importance of regional integration and the need for a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) as well as co-operation from all stakeholders across the industry.

Hon. Mme. Zoureatou Tchakondo Kassa-Traore, the minister of infrastructure and transport for Togo, echoed the Rwandan president’s call for African states that haven’t already signed up to the SAATM agreement to do so, and for those that have, to implement its provisions without delay.

“There is no doubt about the benefits to our states from the full implementation of SAATM,” she said. “By integrating our air routes and opening up the African skies with the implementation of SAATM, we are broadening the paths of growth and development of our continent.”

Underserved market

Meanwhile, H.E. Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways and Chairman of IATA’s board, described Africa as “a promising land for aviation” and the continent as having “huge potential for tourism development.” However, despite growth, he highlighted that Africa remains an underserved market. “Although Africa makes up 16% of the world’s population, it only captures approximately 3.1% of the world’s air travellers,” he said. High air fares, poor connectivity, weak infrastructure and a lack of collaboration among industry leaders and stakeholders are all contributing factors to these low volumes.

He reiterated the need for consolidation across the industry and remarked that going forward the future of African aviation should no longer lie in the hands of a few airlines or protected hubs. “The big shift,” he said “will be based on the emergence of medium-sized hubs and carriers.”

The matter of protectionism was underlined by many of the speakers as being a blocker to the industry’s growth across the continent. President Kagame described it as a “short-sighted policy, which only serves to keep the market fragmented, inefficient and expensive.” He added that removing barriers on the movement of goods and people means there “will be steadily increasing demand for commercial air services in the years ahead.”

Visionary leadership

While the continent’s aviation sector still has its share of challenges and Africa’s open skies remain a work in progress, the overriding message from the first day of the summit was upbeat, as Al Baker summed up, saying key achievements such as the launch of SAATM in January 2018 and the African Continental Free-trade Area in March 2018 “are testament of Africa’s visionary leadership and long-term thinking in aviation.”

Initiatives like the common-format African passport, and the push to remove visa requirements for Africans travelling in Africa, are also significant developments.

The opportunities for growth and development are there for the taking, but African governments need to work alongside industry leaders to realise these opportunities. And with president Kagame a driving force in growing the continent’s aviation industry and forming alliances, Rwanda is certainly lighting the way forward.


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