Africa: Decrepit Airport Infrastructure, SAATM Implementation Worry Aviation Stakeholders

tourists AKWAABA airports SAATM traffic

Stakeholders at the 15th Akwaaba African Travel Market said that decays in airport infrastructure in Africa, and the failure of the continent to fully implement Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) contributed to challenges facing airline operators in Africa. OLUSEGUN KOIKI writes.

Many of Africa’s 419 airports are in poor state. Their poor condition undoubtedly adds to massive running costs by airline operators.

Apart from the poor state, airport charges on the continent are extremely high in addition to other government taxes, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Stakeholders on the continent had on a number of occasions, castigated airport managers across Africa for their poor state, but without much improvement recorded, rather, airline operators are consistently left to bear the brunt.

The bad state of the airports players observed has not encouraged tourists to the country making International tourism revenue on the continent to be at $36.2bn, representing just 3 per cent of the global tourism revenue.

But at a three-day’s Akwaaba: African Travel Market organised in Lagos last week, stakeholders in the sector said that for airlines on the continent to operate profitably, a number of steps and decisions are needed to be taken by all, including African Governments.

Participants at the event agreed that airport infrastructure in Africa needed massive upgrade, even though; only 19 per cent of the facilities are currently in use by the 62 airlines, 817 aircraft and 88 million African air passengers.

To address the sordid situation and mitigate losses, participants at the event said airlines on the continent needed to cooperate, form alliance and embrace the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) signed into law by the African Union (AU) January 2018.

In his presentation, at the Aviation Day with the theme: ‘Impact of Airport Development and Airline on Tourism Growth,’ Mr. Aaron Munetsi, the Director, Government, Legal and Industry Affairs, African Airlines Association (AFRAA), decried that only 19 per cent of air passengers are airlifted by African carriers from the continent, while airlines outside the continent transport the other 81 per cent.

He emphasised that airport manager operators across the world were benefitting more than airline operators across, stressing that at least $38 goes into the coffers of airport managers, $62.8 per cent for landing and parking, catering, ground handling and others, while only 0.2 cents goes into the pockets of airlines out of $100 tickets.

He insisted that airlines are not profitable despite the fact that everybody wanted to establish an airline.

In his statistics, Munetsi observed that only Morocco and South Africa received 11.3 million and 10.3 million international tourist arrivals in 2017, while Egypt had 8.3 million, Tunisia 7.1 million, Algeria 2.5 million, Zimbabwe 2.4 million, Cote d’Ivoire 1.8 million, Botswana 1.6 million, Namibia 1.5 million and Mozambique with 1.4 million tourists within the period.

These figures were abysmally low when compared to France with 86.9 million, Spain 81.9 million, USA 76.9 million, China 60.7 million, Italy 58.2 million, Turkey 37. 6 million, Mexico 39.3 million, United Kingdom 37.6 million, Germany 37.5 million and Thailand with 35.5 million in 2017.

He mentioned full implementation of SAATM as a major solution to the challenges confronting airline operations on the continent, stressing that to survive regime, small and weak airlines should cooperate with strong carriers on the continent.

He said: “Only 16 countries in Africa have facilities for visa on arrival for passengers and tourists, but the reverse is the case in Europe where with a single visa by a non-European citizen, you can enter several European countries. This alone, drives tourists to their countries. Why do I have to pay for visa to access any African country? Is this a policy or poverty? I see it as more of poverty.

“Airport should be able to give airlines the frequencies, capacity and timing for African airlines to operate. African airlines are not profitable because the facilities to make them lucrative are not there.
“There will definitely be winners and losers when African airspace is liberated, but the smaller airlines should collaborate with the bigger carriers. The airlines should start to look at how they can work together with the airport managers. For an African to fly across the continent, the cost is about 45 per cent higher than anywhere else in the world.”

Mr. Chike Ogeah, the former Managing Director of the Skyway Aviation Handling Company (SAHCO) Plc, bemoaned that it was horrendous travelling within Africa and called on respective authorities to take decisive action to tackle the challenge.

He insisted that it was necessary for all hands to be on deck to “break this borders and we begin to integrate as a people. There is still a lot of work to be done,” he said.

To address the challenges, he declared that concessioning of airports across the continent was the way forward and called on all and sundry to embrace the policy.

Besides, Mr. Chris Aligbe said that the poor airport facilities across the continent were a contributory factor to the death of some airlines in the continent, especially in Nigeria.

He explained that in Nigeria for instance, most of the airports lacked world class facilities, stressing that the step taken by the government to concession some of the airports in the first phase was the right step.

Aligbe pointed out that the Federal Government had taken the right decision by its plan to concession Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt airports in the first phase, insisting that the government lacked the financial power to build new airport infrastructure.

Aligbe maintained that the security claim mentioned by some in the sector was a farce, but urged the government to be transparent in its plan.
Besides, he backed the planned national carrier for the country as proposed by the government, saying that the 5 per cent equity proposed by the government was in order.

He recalled that the country had attempted to float national carrier 10 times without success, but insisted that Nigeria required a national carrier to compete.

He said: “In Nigeria we do not have an African standard airport and if we don’t create it, we may never have headway. Concessioning is mandatory for us, the unions may protest, but that is the only solution. The decision to concession four international airports is the best decision because government does not have the money to invest in airports.

“We have a lot note complex situation than Ghana because of our peculiarity. So, we need to resort to concession, government cannot do it, security should not be an excuse. If we want to join the comity of developed aviation nations, we must take a step. We have also not created the infrastructure and standard for tourism to grow. We cannot separate aviation from tourism, we need strong airlines and infrastructure for tourism to grow.”

Also, Mr. Sean Mendis, the Chief Executive Officer (COO) of Africa World Airline, said that the airline made Accra, Ghana its hub because of the conducive operating environment of that country.

Mendis said the Ghanaian Government had reduced all taxes and removed Value Added Tax (VAT) on air tickets, reiterating that the government had created a friendly and enabling environment for aviation and general businesses to thrive.

He declared that the airline would not operate in a place where the charges were “unbearable” and weighing down airline businesses and described the recently built Kotoka International Airport Terminal as a world class facility.

He said: “Ghana is reducing VAT on airlines and with the good terminal, it may not be as large as the one in Singapore, it is a world class terminal. Ghana is more suitable and more business-friendly for us to operate.

“We operate 34 times a week from Accra to Abuja and many airlines now prefer to connect from Accra because of lower landing fees and conduciveness. Ghana is the best place to go. But, with good infrastructure and friendly environment, Nigeria can continue to attract more traffic and connections.”

By Olusegun Koiki

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