Despite a long wait and numerous promises, Dr Elijah Chingosho, secretary general of African airline group, the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), revealed during Routes Africa that he personally believed that the latest timescale of an at least partial liberalisation of African skies remained an unrealistic target.
Responding to questions from the delegates following a Routes Talks presentation at Routes Africa in Tenerife, Canary Islands providing an update to delegates about the projects currently being run by AFRAA, it was clear that he does not believe the full ideology of open skies will be truly realised, and that many airlines operating on the continent are not in a position to take full advantage of the liberalisation.
One of the questions asked looked to the low-cost system and if it is the best practise for Africa. Dr Chingosho made the point that open skies for Africa should open up African skies for African carriers if the continent is to advance in the aviation world.
Many of the airlines currently operating in Africa are becoming concerned about the prospect of open skies, as it runs risk to create much more competition from the likes of European, American and Gulf carriers. Should this be the case, it would create more of a problem rather than solving the current problems faced with intra-African connectivity, according to Chingosho. It was also highlighted that low-cost carriers may be destined to fail as there is a ‘high cost environment’ within Africa.
Chingosho again alluded that the high cost environment of Africa will make it difficult, and said there is a mentality within Africa that flying in for ‘rich people’. This is due in part to the prices of air fares, which are not within reach of many potential African customers.
However, rather than being a barrier, Chingosho believes aviation should be viewed for what it truly is – a method of transportation. Given the mass of the continent and challenges to infrastructure, road travel and rail travel is not as accessible or viable as it is in other parts of the world. It was noted that the price of air travel is particularly high in Brazzaville and Rwanda.
The Routes Talks included information on the Purchase Project, the Route Network Coordination Project, the Ground Handling Project and the Cargo Task Force. Task forces were created in 2011 as a vehicle to identify projects that are viable and of interest to airlines.
These projects are in place to enable aviation within the African continent. One of the key themes from the update is the price of oil for African airlines. Industry costs in Africa are well above the world average, making it much more difficult for airlines to make a profit.
The Fuel Purchase Project was founded in 2011, in order to reduce the cost of fuel through joint bidding and negotiations in order to ensure profitable service, as well as coordinate joint activities in other commercial areas. Due to the high taxes, fees and charges, African carriers are facing a much bigger price for oil than the global average. AFRAA campaigns against these prices.
The Ground Handling Project was introduced to adopt and implement cost effective handling solutions in 2014. The handling fees again are much higher in Africa in comparison to the rest of the world’s average, and the task force wants to reduce these costs. It was noted that some of the infrastructure and facilities provided by some African airports have a low standard of quality.
Dr Chingosho believes the air freight sector often does not receive the attention it deserves, meaning significant opportunities are being missed by airlines to enhance their revenues. This is why the Cargo Task Force was established. AFRAA attained ISO 9001:2008 certification towards quality assurance earlier this year.
The Route Network Coordination Project was founded in 2014 with the objective of increasing intra-African flight frequencies and offering flexibility to travellers while increasing airlines revenue at minimum cost. Routes with gross potential are identified in order to improve connectivity and eradicate long transfer times. Training is provided that is high quality and cost effective.