SAATM takes centre stage at 50th AFRAA AGA

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Apart from being the year of AFRAA’s golden jubilee, 2018 also marks a special milestone year for African airlines as the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) was re-launched under a refreshing platform, Industry experts believe that SAATM once signed and approved by the remaining 28 countries will open better skies for the continent.

Shalini Nair

The year 2018 witnessed few remarkable moments in the history of Africa - one of them was 27 countries signing the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), launched by African Union (AU), in January at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

From November 26-27, 2018 at Rabat, Morocco, the 50th Annual General Assembly (AGA) and Summit of the Africa Airlines Association (AFRAA) hosted by Royal Air Maroc (RAM) focused on the core issues of concern to the industry’s development such as safety, high costs, infrastructure and resources. Morocco hosted this conference last time in 2011 for 43rd AGA. Officially launched by Mohammed VI, the King of Morocco, the ceremony was graced by dignitaries and airline stakeholders from 61 countries.The guest of honour was M Mohammed Sajid, minister of tourism, air transport, handicraft and social economy of the Kingdom of Morocco.

The assembly themed ‘Strengthening African aviation in a liberalised environment’ gathered CEO’s of African airlines, top executives from African aviation industry, African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO), among others. The AGA was attended by over 450 delegates.

In his welcome speech, Abdelhamid Addou, the chairman and CEO of RAM said, “As African companies, we should work together to create opportunities and have no shame in our evolution and performance.”

Commenting on SAATM being a vital milestone in an effort to ease the market access, Abderahmane Berthe, AFRAA, secretary general said, “African traffic represents less than three percent of world traffic while Africa carries 16 percent of the world’s population. There is a huge potential for growth.”

AFRAA and IATA are partners in supporting a safe, secure and sustainable air transport sector that contributes to Africa's economic growth and development. They have recently strengthened their cooperation with an agreement to reinforce the importance of implementation of global standards by African governments. Alexandre de Juniac, director general & CEO of IATA commented, “The Abuja Declaration has committed Africa’s governments to achieve world-class safety. With no jet hull losses for two years running and two years free of any fatalities on any aircraft type it is clear that progress is being made. There is, of course, still more to do. On environmental side, the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) begins on January 1, 2019. From then, all airlines must begin reporting their emissions.”

In parallel, IATA and AFRAA are working together to increase government participation. As of now, nine governments in the region such as Burkina Faso, Botswana, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Zambia and Cameroon are committed to join CORSIA from the voluntary period.

Aviation is already a considerable force in Africa, supporting $55.8 billion of economic activity and 6.2 million jobs.

Berthe has highlighted the need to equip African youth to take on the task of building a globally competitive aviation industry. "African youth have shown their ability to adapt to innovations, empowering them to break the poverty cycle."

Junaic outlined that the average global profit per passenger is $7.80, whereas in Africa the average is a loss of $1.55. The reasons are 35 percent higher fuel price, user charges reflect 11.4 percent of airlines operating costs, and taxes & fees are highest compared to that of other countries. “Too many African governments see aviation as a luxury rather than a necessity and as a result add heavy burdens in unfair taxes to the already high fuel costs and as such stifle their own economic growth.”

Meanwhile, AfDB has renewed efforts to grow the aviation sector. Romain Ekoto, chief aviation officer, AfDB said, “We are focusing on providing finance for aircraft acquisition, setting up a leasing company or platform for African carriers, which is an ongoing project with feasibility study to be completed in 2019, and providing technical assistance for airlines.”

Addressing during the CEOs roundtable on theme of ‘Doing things differently to secure Africa’s aviation future’, Desire Balazire Bantu, CEO, Congo Airways stated, “Airlines CEOs should be the first whistle blowers when safety and security standards are compromised. It is important for airlines to keep and maintain the highest levels of standard.”

Similarly, Tewolde Gebremariam, CEO, Ethiopian Airlines commented, “Airlines should focus on safety and customer satisfaction and the senior management must make sure that their stakeholders are well catered to.” He further added that the countries & governments are not well informed about aviation policies, which in turn affect their signing of SAATM.

The session concluded with encouraging the participation of women as CEOs in aviation industry and a need to invest in their training and promotion opportunities since there is great potential for them to take part in the industry.

In a session regarding disruptive innovation, Sebastian Taupic, Airbus marketing manager, highlighted that it is a priority to adopt new innovations to bring out clear benefits on signed protocols like SAATM. Speaking on the same lines, Captain Valentine Tongo, CEO, Allied Air said, “Technology is a big part of the cargo business as customers can track their cargo from the comfort of their home from the point of loading till delivery. Skills transfer should be a priority for African airlines if disruptive innovation is to be beneficial to the continent.”

The panel included Othmane Bekkari, SVP customer experience, RAM; Noor Alhamer, head of sales and business development Middle East and Africa, Sabre Airline Solutions; Johan Pauwels, regional VP - Africa & France Airline Business Group, Hahn Airlines; Mark Dunnachic - head of commercial EMEA & Russia, ATR; and Drew Magill, MD-marketing Europe, Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

In the last session on ‘What strategies can airlines and airports adopt to enhance the passenger experience and cargo operations?’, Vladimir D Zubkov, secretary general of The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) highlighted that there is great need for airlines and regulatory authorities in the aviation industry to work together to reduce the ground handling time of cargo.

At the AFRAA Awards, Congo Airways was awarded for being the best improved airline of the year; and Ethiopian Airlines for sustainability and performance. While closing the AGA, Berthe remarked, "Your support to the future priorities of African airlines sends a powerful signal to our partners and to the key players in African Aviation."

The 51st AFRAA AGA will be held at Yaounde, Cameroon from November 24 - 26, 2019 and will be hosted by Camair-Co, under the Presidency of CEO Ernest Dikoum. Headquartered in Douala, Cameroon Airlines Corporation, trading as Camair-Co, is the flag carrier of Cameroon. Camair-Co was replaced by the now-defunct Cameroon Airlines in 2011.

Working together with AFRAA, IATA and AU, AFCAC at its 29th Extraordinary and 30th Ordinary Plenary Sessions, has recently launched a handbook on SAATM in Zambia, which will help in clarifying any misconceptions among countries and operators about the agreement.

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