By Roland Ohaeri
African airlines and their partners who met during the 52nd Annual General Assembly (AGA) of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) exuded unmistakable courage and positive expectation to achieve sustainable recovery and build back operations to 2019 levels in the face of COVID-19 induced challenges. The AFRAA AGA, held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, x-rayed disturbing multifaceted challenges. No doubt, African airlines have found new strength in their cohesion under AFRRA fraternity.
Strength And Advocacy
Though immediate challenges including the urgent need for financial support to power the airlines back into sustainable recovery appeared to overshadow the pre-COVID-19 challenges including inordinate high taxes, charges and fees and harsh operating environment, the AGA threw light on all these critical challenges. And AFRAA resolves to pursue the resolution of these challenges through intensive advocacy and pressure on governments and other support institutions.
Vital Government Support
While governments are seen as vital to addressing the immediate challenges of African airlines, the Chief Guest at the AGA His Excellency, the Transport Minister of the Republic of Angola, Mr. Ricardo de Abreu, also expresses an understanding of the catalytic role of aviation to tourism and economic sustainability. He says: “We are conscious of the enabling role that aviation plays in facilitating trade and growing our economies. As we collectively navigate these times, we will seek to emerge from this pandemic more resilient, organized and determined to succeed.”
However, available data indicate the tardy response of governments and industry finance institutions to provide funds to African airlines. While Nigeria offers to provide USD9 million to local airlines, African finance institutions and some governments had equally announced a financial support of USD 300 billion for the industry and tourism, yet to be disbursed to the airlines.
Scaling Interventions Africa-Wide
Other commendable interventions from Botswana on jet fuel price, and Zimbabwe on airline blocked funds, as well as Egypt’s industry relief measures including support to national carrier with EGP 3 billion (USD190 million) in the form of a long-term government loan, and support to Egyptian Holding Company for Airports and Air Navigation (EHCAAN) with EGP 1 billion (USD 63 million) in the form of a government long term loan, require urgent disbursement. Scale-up of financial support to African airlines is most crucial.
Beyond financial support, AFRAA is equally driving the implementation of recently reviewed COVID-19 protocols for safe air travel developed under the aegis of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). As at October 2020, only 34 African States have lifted restrictions for air travel in their domains. And AFRAA says, “compared to February, African airlines reopened 70.8% of their international routes in October.”
Worse still, AFRAA says as at October 2020, the industry faces an estimated USD 9 billion revenue loss for 2020.
African airlines may look inwards as recovery of traffic in Africa is expected to start with domestic markets, to be followed by intra-African routes, while international routes are still challenged by the second wave of the pandemic.
African airlines are also reminded to become more adaptive to build resilience amidst the changing industry landscape.
More significant is the emphasis of delegates for “a multi-sectoral and pragmatic approach by governments and stakeholders to support the recovery of air transport industry and interrelated sectors such as tourism.” This would help create the critical mass of local traffic to boost African airlines’ load factors, which had plummeted beyond 90% under the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns, but which has risen remarkably to around 50%.
Though the 400 AGA delegates from 76 nationalities across the globe could not shake hands and discuss over cups of tea as usual, they were however strengthened by an infectious optimism to push for innovative partnerships now vital for industry recovery and sustainable growth well into the future.
AFRAA Strategic Response
The AGA was hosted by TAAG Angola Airlines, under the theme: “Redefining Air Transport for a New Era.”
Perhaps, the most innovative part of AFRAA agreeable intervention to drive quick recovery of African airlines is the robust adoption of joint interventions allowing all member airlines to benefit in different ways.
Mr. Abdérahmane Berthé, AFRAA’s Secretary General, remarks: “We tackled the crisis by resolutely pivoting our strategic and tactical resources to support recovery efforts. We have launched an interactive capacity sharing portal to provide access to market-leading services to African airlines, and developed a recovery plan revolving around 9 pillars of interest to the sector and a comprehensive strategic plan that is geared towards helping the industry meet its aspirations.”
TAAG Angola Chief Executive Officer Mr. Rui Carreira, says: “Although we foresee a slow recovery, we are currently implementing key measures that will restore passenger confidence and optimize our operations for a more affordable and successful industry.”
AFRAA Executive Positions
The 52nd AFRAA AGA re-elected Mr. Rui Carreira President of the Association for the year 2021. Mr. Desire Bantu Balazire, Chief Executive of Congo Airways was elected Chairman of the Executive Committee. Ms. Yvonne Makolo Chief Executive of RwandAir was elected 1st Vice Chairperson of the Executive Committee while Ms. Amal Mint Maouloud, CEO of Mauritania Airlines was elected 2nd Vice Chairperson for the year 2021.
Partnership For Growth
Two airlines, Overland Airways Limited and Syphax Airways, joined the AFRAA fraternity, bringing the Membership to 47. Similarly, De Havilland Canada, PRODIGY Avia Solutions Limited and South African Tourism joined the Associations’ partnership programme.
Overall, the build-up of cohesion and partnerships will be useful to drive African airlines’ recovery.