Aviation is an engine for economic development; and in the case of Africa, it supports 7 million jobs whilst contributing more than 70 billion to GDP. However, compared to the rest of the world, the numbers are very low.
Aviation in Africa is an essential and irreplaceable transport service. This though is well identified by the African government African airlines are shrinking and non African airlines are growing.
As it stands today, 82 percent of intercontinental travel is done by non-African airlines. Only 18 percent market portion is shared by African airlines, put together. This should be a concern to African airlines and serious consideration should be given to African airlines, some documents indicated.
It is believed that both the aviation industry and governments must work together for the implementation of the Yamoussoukro decision - a major Pan-African multilateral agreement aimed at liberalizing the African air space for African airlines.
Enhancing air connectivity can help raise productivity, by encouraging investment and innovation; improve business operations and efficiency. It is indispensable for tourism, where convenient air service facilitates the arrival of larger number of tourists to a region or country.
While the air market between Africa and countries outside Africa has been liberalized to a significant extent, most Intra-Africa aviation markets remained largely closed, subject to restrictive bilateral agreements that limit the growth and development of air services.
Recognizing that this arrangement was limiting growth and development, many African nations adopted the Yamoussoukro decision in 1999. This agreement committed the 44 signatory countries to deregulating air services and promote regional air markets opening to transnational competition. However, the implementation of this agreement has been slow and limited; and thus, the potential benefits of liberalizing Intra-Africa markets remain largely unrealized
According to the report, liberalization can lead to increased air service levels and lower fares, which in turn stimulates/facilitates tourism, trade investment and others sectors of the economy and brings about productivity, economic growth and increased employment. Liberalization of international air markets has provided sustainable benefits to the wider economy.
African aviation has many challenges that are shaped in different forms. High costs of operations have led them to operate unprofitably, not to have market access, whilst the industry is suffering from lack of inadequate infrastructure. Also, safety, while improving, is still below the standard.
Liberalization is critical to address problems related to the aforementioned challenges, said Raphael Kuuchi, IATA Africa Vice President.
Liberalizing African airlines means opening African skies to other African carrier. African airlines that want to fly to any African country should be able to do so as often as they want. Through liberalization, as the study shows, it is possible to generate 155 jobs every year, and create another 5,000 additional air travelers. There are so many benefits to liberalization. "That is why we advised African airline to open market rather than restrict."
The performance of African airlines is improving compared with its past performance and trend. Travel volume, the number of passengers, number of cargoes are increasing. But it is clear that the beneficiaries are not the African traffic; African aviation are not necessarily African airlines. Many foreign carriers are carrying more of the passengers. About 85 percent of the traffic on intercontinental roots are carried by non African Airlines. So, only about 15 percent carried by African airlines. Therefore, it is important to liberalize the African air space so that many African carriers can be able to carry more traffic and do more business.
Today, African economy has continued to expand at a robust pace with an average of 5 percent GDP growth. Air connectivity is critical to maintain the robust growth. Without it, the flow of investment, tourism and trade would not be possible. "Without it, our aspiration for an integrated and prosperous Africa cannot materialize," According to Tewolde Gebremariam, Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Officer.
No other infrastructure can play the continent-wide integrator role like aviation. Building continental-wide road or rail systems will take a very long time, though we must still do it. Given the size of the African landmass, only aviation can play this continent-wide integrator role at present.
"Hence, if we are truly serious about African integration and the availing of reliable, convenient and affordable air connectivity to the African traveling public, there is no other option but to implement the Yamoussoukro decision fully."
Ethiopia recognizes the role of air connectivity as a driver of economic growth, integration and job creation. That is why the government is spending a lot of resources to build aviation infrastructure across the country with the construction of new airports and the upgrading of existing ones.
The Africa air traffic demand is growing especially as compared to the developed world. Despite the fact that Africa air travel starts from very low base, as there are only 28 million passengers traveling by air within Africa out of a billion population, there is huge untapped potential, he added. So, it about high time that Africa starts to fully explore and exploit its air space for the development and growth of its member countries, Tewolde underscored.