In a new episode of Connecting Africa, CNN International’s Eleni Giokos visits the continent’s first Aerospace Forum in Casablanca, Morocco, meeting some of the aviation leaders who are making intra-African air connectivity a reality.
In many parts of Africa, the aviation sector is still in its infancy, with poor infrastructure and a fragmented network of routes. Even getting to the Aerospace African Forum posed a challenge for many. Secretary General of the African Airlines Association, Abderahmane Berthe, discusses his route: “I live in Nairobi, in Kenya. I had to fly Nairobi via Addis to go to Bamako in Mali, and then to connect on another airline from Bamako to Casablanca.”
Using the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), the continent is aiming to increase economic integration, promote social integration, and boost intra-African trade and tourism. SAATM was launched in 2018, but so far only 35 of the 55 African countries have signed up. Berthe is one of the people involved in getting SAATM implemented. He speaks about the project’s goals: “[It] aims to liberalise the air transport within the continent in terms of traffic rights, in terms of access to markets, capacity offered by airlines. So, since 2018 all the stakeholders of the industry are working to make it happen.”
According to Berthe, SAATM is not only aiming to improve connectivity but also reduce prices. “I think what it will achieve is to facilitate the access to market. Because for any business, if you don’t have access to market you cannot grow. So, this is important. For me, it will really improve connectivity. And also let us talk about affordability of air transport for African citizens, because SAATM is not only about connectivity,” he said.
As more countries ratify and implement SAATM, Berthe discusses his biggest worry, “What is worrying me today is the willingness of states and also the readiness. You need to be willing and to be ready.”
Next, Giokos meets the CEO of Kenya Airways, Allan Kilavuka. He talks about the role that the African Continental Free Trade Agreement could play in boosting passenger and freight traffic on the continent, “There’s not enough traffic moving from south to north and north to south, and not enough goods being traded between Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa. But that I believe this is about to change because of the African Continental Free Trade Area, which now first of all will give access to goods, and also allow for more freedom of movement for people from both sides.”
Although Kilavuka and other aviation leaders are arguing for liberalisation of the market in Africa, he believes that this could be done in stages to help with the enormity of the task, “What we have said is, even when it comes to liberalisation of the aviation, we could start with pockets, East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa, and see how that works. And then before we blow it out, because I know it’s big, we have 55 countries, a very large continent, 1.2 million people, so it’s a large thing, it’s a large project to implement all at once. So, if you implement it in pockets and then roll it out, then that makes much more sense.”
Kilavuka also argues that African airlines must consolidate if the continent is to improve its aviation prospects, “The African aviation market is very fragmented. I mean, 55 countries, we have so many airlines in the continent. Most of them are not viable, that truth be told. The solution to that is to consolidate. Just like that has happened in Europe, it happened in the US, it happened in Asia. We need to consolidate, so that you create bigger entities which are more economical from a scale perspective, and they can respond to high costs. They can together talk to suppliers and get more bargains when it comes to purchases, so bring down the unit cost of operation.”
Giokos also speaks to CEO of RwandAir, Yvonne Manzi Makolo, about the country’s plans for a new $2 billion airport in Kigali, with ambitions for it to become a major hub for travel and trade on the continent.
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