Connectivity between African markets remains one of the principal barriers to Intra-African trade and tourism growth. For decades now, African travellers have been frustrated by a lack of connectivity between markets that has often meant it is cheaper to fly via Europe to move from one African destination to another.
The situation has changed when it comes to travel between Africa’s economic hubs and capital cities. However, as Abderahmane Berthe, Secretary-General of the African Airlines Association, explains in this interview with AfricaLive “Real connectivity is about developing new routes to connect new markets.”
With the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market, the aviation industry has an opportunity to be a real driver of African economic growth. What role will Africa’s airlines play in accelerating the rate of Intra-African trade and investment?
AfricaLive: What are your short and long term goals for developing the association and the sector in general?
Abderahmane Berthe: Since I came on board almost two years ago, I have worked to redefine this institution’s vision, mission, and objectives. Our growth strategies gravitate around a few pillars one of them being, continuous improvement of safety and security.
We have to shed off our lousy image when it comes to security so that visitors can trust us. The other pillar is the creation of a conducive environment for sustainable air transport in Africa. Sustainability means reducing the cost of operations while maximising revenue. Our air operations must be sustainable if we are to achieve our goal of African integration. If our airlines are struggling and operate in an unsustainable way, then our integration dream will die a slow death. At our last general assembly meeting, we launched an African aviation consulting unit. The launch of this unit will help us achieve sustainability by giving advice and leadership training so that companies can represent themselves better.
AfricaLive: What steps can be taken to accelerate the growth of African aviation?
Abderahmane Berthe: Air traffic into Africa is expected to double in the next fifteen to twenty years. We can’t just sit and wait for that kind of traffic to fall on our laps though. We have to facilitate it by preparing adequately to receive the world. The African Union Commission has responded by launching three projects to boost the growth of aviation in Africa. These three projects will also work to promote regional integration. They include; the setting up of the Single African Air Transport Market. The Single African Air Transport Market will boost integration by removing restrictions and increasing connectivity. The second is the launch of the African Free Trade Area, which will facilitate the movement of goods and the removal of 90 per cent of trade tariffs. The setting up of the Free Trade Protocol is the third project set up by the African Union Commission. This protocol sees to it that people and capital can move freely across borders.
The three projects are critical because they will encourage collaboration. We need increased cooperation because one airline cannot connect the whole continent. There has to be a better interconnection between African countries to remedy the problem of very little intra-African trade. Africa will not be able to industrialise fast enough if the status quo remains. It is also vital for us to conduct intra-African business in a way that is mutually beneficial to all member states. It makes no sense for member states to produce the same products since this will jeopardise trade amongst them.
AfricaLive: What impact do you expect from the establishment of the Single African Air Transport Market?
Abderahmane Berthe: I expect an improvement in connectivity across Africa. I also predict a significant reduction in airfares which will be fantastic. The initiative will get a considerable boost going forward if we can develop our economies faster. It is encouraging that the connectivity between African countries has grown tremendously in the last ten years. The problem though is that this growth is only happening along the same routes. Unfortunately, airlines are only competing for the same paths that already developed and quite saturated. Real connectivity is about developing new routes to connect new markets. Courses like the Bamako to Niamey route are almost unknown because airlines are not competing for them. We, consequently, expect the Single African Air Transport Market to help develop new courses.
AfricaLive: What steps can be taken to accelerate the growth of intra-African tourism?
Abderahmane Berthe: The potential of Intra-African tourism is immense. There is a lot to see and experience in our many great sites. We can take advantage of our great sites to attract guests. Tourism will grow by the improvement of our roads, stimulation of our aviation industries, and development of classy hospitality institutions. Security and safety must also be beefed up to protect our domestic and international tourists. Tourists are sensitive when it comes to security, and if they feel threatened, they will keep away. Countries must, therefore, cooperate, so that shared guest business is protected. It is also essential to come up with creative initiatives such as a single visa policy. Such a system would see tourists travel within African countries without needing to apply for several visas.
AfricaLive: How can the aviation and tourism industries in Africa approach the challenge of balancing economic growth with the sustainability of the environment?
Abderahmane Berthe: Many African airlines are now renewing their fleet. We will soon get new planes that consume less fuel, which will be a plus for the environment. Airports also need to play their part by ensuring they have low fuel guzzlers on the ground. Getting rid of old aircraft and old airport automobiles will go a long way in saving the atmosphere from harmful emissions. Our approach to sustainability is guided by the three P’s, which are people, planet, and profit. We need to take care of the local people by growing local economies. There must also be a consideration for the planet by reducing our carbon footprint. Finally, we must operate in a way that is profitable so that the sector survives.
AfricaLive: Are you positive about the African aviation industry and what can be achieved in the coming years?
Abderahmane Berthe: Though we face a myriad of challenges, I am very optimistic about the future. Africa being the last frontier means there is a lot of room for growth. The fact that the developed markets are getting saturated means that everybody will find their way here in the future. Africa’s youth bulge also means that there will also be a lot of sourcing of skills and manpower from here. This means that we are the future and we should be excited about that. African leaders need to be proactive and visionary enough to see all this coming. They must get together and strategise on ways to capitalise on the opportunities the future holds for the continent. Our leaders must get to work and aim to improve our economies rapidly by attracting investment, improving infrastructure, and promoting intra-African trade.