In a historic gathering at the 55th African Airlines Association Annual General Assembly (AFRAA) in Kampala, 570 delegates from the aviation sector resolved to engage their respective governments in an effort to liberalize and open up air spaces within Africa. The unanimous agreement among delegates signifies a collective push for a transformative change in the aviation industry on the continent.
Key to this initiative is the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), with 37 out of 54 countries having subscribed to it. However, the majority have yet to fulfill their commitment to opening up their air spaces fully. AFRAA Secretary General, Mr. Abderahmane Berthe, emphasized the positive impact of such actions by citing the example of Morocco, which, despite initial challenges, witnessed significant benefits after opening its airspace to Europe.
“The problem is that most countries are protective, and as AFRAA, we have engaged them and others to open up because opening up is a good initiative,” Mr. Berthe stated during the assembly.
One of the significant challenges faced by African airlines is visa restrictions. Mr. Berthe acknowledged the complexity of the issue but reiterated AFRAA’s commitment to engaging governments to facilitate the free movement of people within the region. This, he believes, will not only enhance regional integration but also boost trade and tourism.
According to estimates provided by Mr. Berthe, the aviation sector is expected to face a revenue loss of $3.5 billion in 2022, representing 20 percent of 2019 revenues. However, he anticipates a narrowing down of this figure to $1 billion in 2023. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported that African airlines carried 67 million passengers in 2022, constituting only two percent of the global traffic of 3.4 billion passengers.
Mr. Berthe identified a mismatch between capacity and demand, as well as limited commercial cooperation among local carriers, as potential reasons for the low load factor in Africa. Addressing these issues is crucial for the sustainable growth of the aviation industry on the continent.
The CEO of Uganda Airlines, Ms. Jenifer Bamuturaki, highlighted the need for increased representation of women in top hierarchies of the aviation sector, including CEO and pilot positions. The assembly underscored the importance of encouraging and empowering women to take up leadership roles in the industry.
In a symbolic passing of the torch, Ms. Bamuturaki handed over the AFRAA presidency to her Egyptian counterpart. The next AGM, scheduled for the following year, will be hosted in Egypt, further emphasizing the continuity and collaborative spirit of African aviation leaders in their pursuit of a more interconnected and prosperous future for the industry on the continent.