Business Aviation in Africa: Meeting the Challenges Ahead

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Business Aviation And Africa

Business Aviation plays a critical role in economic development and in many ways its successes go hand in hand with economic progress. In Africa, Business Aviation takes on a higher importance due to several reasons. Business Aviation is a dire necessity for Africa. Africa controls only 2.1% of world aviation in spite of its huge population. Air travel from one part of the continent to another can be tortuous due to poor air connectivity on the continent. Where there is air connectivity, many city-pairs do not have direct flight services and flight schedules do not achieve the regularity to support business travel.

The Yamoussoukro Decision which is expected to open up the continent has so far failed to do so due to the lack of commitment of many governments in Africa. The Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative being championed by the AFCAC is another attempt at opening the continent in line with the aspirations of African Union Agenda 2063.

While African countries continue to bicker on the benefits of opening up to one another, business must continue and herein lies the importance of business aviation. In West Africa, business aviation plays critical roles in support of the oil and gas sector including staff movements, medevac, emergency and others. In East Africa, business aviation has been positioned to support the booming tourism sector, ditto for the mining sector in Southern and Central Africa.

A Challenged Sector

In spite of its obvious uses, in many parts of Africa, Business Aviation is seen as the playground of the wealthy, and often viewed with suspicion in terms of national security. Government and its security apparatus are wary of security implications of business jets in terms of drug and arms smuggling and other crimes and their direct security implication leading to delay in processing or outright refusal to grant permits. And some of these fears are not far-fetched. In a continent that is rife with political instability, many governments are suspicious of the flexibility of business aviation and seek to regulate the activities of business aviation through the tight control of permits. Recently in Zambia there were reports of the seizure of a business aircraft with huge cash and other valuables.

In addition, the existence of several regulations and charges across Africa bring a level of unpredictability to the business aviation sector which makes flight planning difficult.

Speaking at the Yamoussoukro Decision Day in Abuja November 2023, the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Capt. Musa Nuhu lamented the existence of many national regulations in the aviation sector and called on governments to harmonize regulation. This may well help to curb the existence of several and different charges across countries on the continent.

Political instability within the continent is another area that challenges business aviation. At the Aviation Africa Summit in Abuja, many business Aviation practitioners lamented the endemic conflict in the continent. Africa has had a fair share of coups in recent times. In the last couple of years, largely in West Africa and Central Africa, many parts of African airspace have advisories on the flight level that business aircraft can operate to due to active conflict zone according to a report in Rebase published by security company, dynami Security Intelligence Service. The continent has too many active conflict zones.

General insecurity to aircrew, to parked aircraft and fewer maintenance facilities across the continent to maintain private jets are also challenges. Poor infrastructure is another challenge for business aviation in Africa as it is for commercial airlines.

Increasing Business Aviation Penetration

At the Aviation Africa Conference in Abuja, Nigeria September 2023, participants noted that the Business Aviation industry in Africa needs to forcefully communicate its benefits to the economies of the continent in order to remove some of the vestiges that hamstring the sector. This, apart from communicating benefits, must also reassure governments that Business Aviation is inherently secure and the community is available to implement government strategies to make it even more secure.

Business Aviation creates jobs, facilitates economic activities and without it investing in many parts of Africa would be difficult, if not impossible. To increase the penetration of business aviation in Africa, with its perennial issue of poor connectivity, represents a huge opportunity for traveling to hitherto unreachable areas whether for pleasure as we see in Eastern Africa, for critical health saving emergencies or for business.

A major need for business aviation is maintenance organization. There are many MRO organisations popping up in Africa. In West Africa Execujet Aviation Nigeria an authorized maintenance center for Bombardier business Jets and Gulfstream aircraft. In Southern Africa, Execujet Africa is an authorized center for Embraer, Gulfstream and Bombardier. But these centres have to increase to offer the assurance that operators require.

Business Aviation Under AFCFTA

Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is touted as the world largest free trade area involving 55 countries and a population of over 1.3 billion with the highest youth population in the world. The goal of the free trade area is to encourage intra-Africa trade through the removal of barriers to trade. The AFCFTA which came into effect in 2019 is a platform for African Business Aviation in the AfCFTA environment will suffer the same fate as commercial aviation unless the bottlenecks are removed. Business Aviation thrives on speed, spontaneity and flexibility. AfCFTA is meant to increase intra African trade, mostly between peoples of Africa who unfortunately require visas to visit neighboring countries.

For Business Aviation to thrive under AFCFTA, it is necessary that it is implemented in tandem with the other priorities of the AU Agenda 2063 which include The African Passport and Free Movement of Persons within the continent.

Business people will need to will move in order to attract more investments from within Africa.

Business Aviation and Decarbonisation in Africa

Civil aviation, and indeed the business aviation sector, is a critical contributor to global economic development The international Business Aviation community has committed to achieving the target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Africa business aviation sector, as other regions, has a responsibility to contribute to carbon emission reduction without stifling its growth. The sector has to align its strategy with the stated industry target under the Business Aviation Commitment on Climate Change. Already, the sector is investing in newer technologies which is commendable. But the industry must continue on this path as there are expectations that in future clients will only patronize companies with lower carbon footprints or that show commitment to cutting their emission.

African business aviation leaders must brace up for commitments to net-zero emissions as in a matter of time, it will become one of the criteria for doing business with companies from Europe, North America and elsewhere.

In addition, carbon emission reduction at operational level needs to be recognized and pursued as a corporate governance imperative at business aviation companies in the continent.

A Promising Sector

Africa’s business aviation sector is poised for growth in the years ahead. The youth population is an asset while many of the growth economies are in the continent. However, harmonizing its aviation regulations, improving air transport infrastructure and the operating environment will go a long way in positioning the sector for the future and to tap into the benefits and prospects of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

 

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