ACI’s Airport Excellence security review aims to help put Africa’s airports on global route map

A new – and free – security review for airports provided by the Airports Council International looks set to help drive best practice across long-suffering destinations in Africa.

African airports are fighting back against the ongoing security threat with a new scheme available across the continent. Ali Tounsi, the regional secretary for Airports Council International (ACI) Africa, says recent terrorist attacks in both Tunisia and Egypt had heavily impacted aviation traffic.

In particular, he notes Monastir Habib Bourguiba International Airport in Tunisia had seen a 90% fall in traffic following the terrorist attack on the beaches north of the facility, which saw 38 tourists and locals gunned down in June 2015.

He adds Sharm el Sheikh International Airport had seen a decline in air traffic of about 80% after many countries suspended flights to the facility in the wake of the October bomb attack on a Metrojet aircraft, killing 224 people. However, he says ACI’s new Airport Excellence (Apex) in Security Review should drive improvements in security once it has passed its pilot stage.

The initiative consists of a week-long, peer-led inspection of the airport focusing on its security areas and practices. The review is undertaken by staff from other airports in a bid to drive up standards across the board, and is also entirely free, other than meeting the costs for travel and board incurred by the inspectors.

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in Mauritius has already undergone an inspection at the beginning of this year as part of the pilot scheme. Either Entebbe International Airport in Uganda or Maputo International Airport in Mozambique are likely to be the next facilities inspected, says Danny Boutin, senior manager of Apex programmes for ACI World. It is then hoped that the scheme will be rolled out globally.

Tounsi says: “What is driving it is the terrorist situation... across north Africa and all over the world. There’s good things and good areas [being practised by some airports] and we need the exchange of best practices from airports. We have asked them to come in with new ideas.” Boutin agrees Africa was chosen for the pilot scheme as airports on the continent requested it as a result of the increased terror threat.

Once the visit has been made and improvements undertaken, a follow-up check will be conducted two to three years later to ensure the airport remains on the right track.

Tounsi adds the programme is an extension of a safety scheme which has seen 20 peer reviews of African airports and a further 36 globally since its introduction in 2011 and which he believes has been successful thanks to the sharing of knowledge.

Tounsi says: “When you tell someone their runway is not good enough they will operate to correct it, but if they didn’t know there is a problem they will do nothing. The results are very good.” Boutin also urges more airports to consider lending their expertise to the review process, adding: “We are looking for airports to get involved and increase our pool of expertise.”

While the two programmes might be addressing two of the key issues impacting African aviation, security and safety, Tounsi despairs over the ongoing failure to implement an open skies agreement across the continent. The industry currently generates more than $80 billion in GDP in the region, supporting 6.9 million jobs and transporting 70 million passengers yearly. But he remains convinced that aviation cannot reach its full potential without open skies. He also argues a predicted growth rate of 4.7% per year until 2034, following recent annual growth rates of up to 10%, is not as strong as it first appears when you consider the low base it is coming off.

Tounsi says: “There are 200 very small airports [in Africa] so when you predict 10% growth it is nothing compared to the rest of the world. We have a lot of capacity but we don’t have enough passengers. In route development we have had the same problem for a long time: the lack of air transfers. Airports cannot develop traffic without the agreement of the government.

“The governments don’t do it. They go to meetings and say: ‘yes we will try and open our skies,’ but they get back home and nothing is done. We hope there’s a democratisation, [the arrival of] new airport CEOs and more analysis of the figures to show governments that open skies can bring more traffic to the continent.”

Tounsi argues African countries with large commercially viable airlines such as South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt and Morocco have seen the benefits of largescale aviation and are happy to move towards freer skies. Instead, he believes the problems are caused by countries with small national carriers that lobby their governments hard not to open their skies, so protecting them from the wider market.

In the meantime, Tounsi says the failure to address the situation has left much of the African market open to European and Middle Eastern carriers who have been only too happy to take advantage of the continental rift.

He adds: “In fact it is mainly the Middle East carriers. When they come they come with a project, not only a company. They have a central agreement, a government-to-government agreement to develop not only the routes but all of those businesses, such as cargo, too.” While it may provide growth, Tounsi is firmly of the belief that the African carriers have their own role to play in making the continent’s aviation market a true success.