Working Together for Africa

Raphael Kuuchi, IATA’s vice president for Africa, says collaboration is vital if African carriers are to improve their competitiveness.

Raphael Kuuchi, IATA’s vice president for Africa, says collaboration is vital if African carriers are to improve their competitiveness.  Here's a Q&A with the executive...

What are the main challenges in African aviation?

In the short term, the biggest challenges are the slowed economic growth, especially in Nigeria, Angola and South Africa; Ebola; various redtape impediments – including wellintentioned, but ultimately harmful, immigration regulations such as those proposed by South Africa; and the security situation in Kenya and Nigeria.

At the same time, longer term challenges include skills development and retention; appropriate investment in infrastructure; high industry cost arising from government taxes, charges and fees on passengers and fuel; safety; and the regulatory obstacles standing in the way of African carriers needing to respond to increased competition.

Would liberalisation help the development of the industry in Africa?

Change is not an option for Africa. The economic imperative is simply too great to ignore. This is why, after three decades of lip service, bodies such as the African Union (AU) have been galvanised and are embracing the concept of a single African air transport market under a common regulatory framework.

The latest IATA-commissioned research by InterVISTAS has shown that aviation supports about 7 million jobs and about $80 billion of GDP in Africa. But if the 12 largest African economies adopted a more business and consumer-friendly approach that enabled increased air connectivity, then GDP across those countries  would grow by $1.3 billion. Similarly, 155,000 additional jobs would be created.

Change is always uncomfortable for some and no doubt some of those states that own national carriers are afraid of what it might bring and will resort to other legal instruments to obstruct or limit competition. Ultimately, money talks and the scope and scale of the economic benefits to be gained from change far outweigh any short-term profits for those carriers enjoying protection at the expense of their nations’ economies and the economy of the entire continent.

How can African governments be persuaded of the benefits of aviation?

We have a strong and very compelling case. But there is nothing like experiencing the benefits for maximum persuasion. We need to move the discussion forward and the best way to do this is with validated econometrics. This requires open, willing and constructive engagement with policy makers and regulators, supported with evidence of the gains and successes that have already been achieved in some regions in Africa and, on a broader scale, in other parts of the developing world.

Is it possible to have a pan- African vision for aviation or are there significant regional/ national differences?

There will always be differences. How these are addressed and accommodated is what remains crucial. Most likely this single, common market will need to be achieved through the creation of a formalised structure.

Countries have shown they can find agreement through such solutions. Take ICAO, for example. It sets out regulatory standards for civil aviation and it succeeds as a universal body under the UN. What is needed is for the AU to establish an instrument that sets out a clearly defined framework, but which then lets the industry get on with doing what it does best – that is, flying people and goods safely, efficiently and affordably.

What more can be done to improve safety?

In 2014, for the first time, there were no western-built jet hull losses or fatalities in Africa. Encouraging as this may be, we cannot afford to relax our diligence. On the contrary, IATA has begun implementing further measures and processes designed to bolster the current safety performance and prove that 2014 was not an aberration.

Because safety remains our top priority, we’ve launched initiatives such as the Enhanced IATA Operational Safety Audits (IOSA), which ensure that safety compliance is not just a box-ticking exercise. This year, we will also be launching the IATA Standard Safety Audit (ISSA) to address safety concerns relating to smaller commercial aircraft. This voluntary safety audit programme has been created primarily for airlines and private charter operators of aircraft with a Maximum Take-off Weight of less than 5,700kgs (12,566 lbs) and whose business models do not allow conformity with IOSA standards. ISSA is based on ICAO provisions and aligned with global best practices. But it is not a substitute for IOSA, which remains a requirement for IATA membership.

If you could change one thing in African aviation overnight, what would it be and why?

It would be to get African operators working together and with external partners to derive the synergy needed to compete effectively in this industry. The African aviation market is growing fast and the potential to get more Africans flying is huge, since currently only a small fraction of the more than 1 billion people travel by air.

Unfortunately, the small size of many African airlines and the limited network they operate does not allow them to take advantage of this growth. Previous efforts to get operators working together through codeshares and other commercial arrangements have not yielded great results. But herein lies the opportunity for them to expand their networks and reach a larger segment of the market. Being able to serve the regional and domestic market well will give airlines the traffic base to compete with other operators flying into the region.

To further extend their global reach, it is important that African operators enter into codeshares and allow capital investments/partial ownership by investors from outside the region. This will boost their resource base and increase their competitiveness. Working together will also increase their negotiating power with fuel, ground handling and other service providers, which will bring down airline operating costs and improve profitability.