African Airlines Discuss Gender, Diversity, SAATM And Sustainable Development

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By Monday Ukoha

Gathering Under the African Moon

When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so. – Chinua Achebe.

With these famed words of the famed Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe, the Chief Executive Officer of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa, AASA, Mr. Aaron Munetsi echoed the reason for the gathering of over 570 delegates from over 49 countries across the world comprising Chief Executive officers of airlines, heads of international organisations, aircraft and engine manufacturers, distribution companies, amongst others in Kampala, Uganda for the 55th edition of the Annual General Assembly of the African Airlines Association, AFRAA under the theme: “Strides to Transform Aviation for Development.’

Set against the many challenges facing the air transport industry in Africa, the 55th AFRAA AGA had its objectives set out for it, however, as the Vice President of the Republic of Uganda, Her Excellency Jessica Rose Epel Alupo said, the success of the 55th AGA will be remembered by the number of boxes the industry ticks out when it gathers again in Cairo, Egypt in November 2024 for the 56th AGA.

Africa’s contribution to the global air transport industry is still at the lower threshold of 2.1% when cargo and passenger are factored together. The airline industry is still small though the likes of Ethiopian Airlines are expanding tremendously amidst calls for consolidation from CEOs of Safarilink and Kenya Airways, Mr. Alex Avedi and Allan Kilavuka, respectively. But the AGA, amongst other things, was a platform to proffer solutions and share experiences.

Deliberate diversity and inclusivity

One of such challenges was increasing the number of women coming into the aviation sector at leadership level, a theme which is at the heart of the drive by the international aviation community to involve more women in aviation riding on IATA’s agenda 25by25. With only a few  women occupying executive position in global air transport industry, Africa is challenged to do more to encourage young women to choose careers in aviation in management, flight operations and others.

To achieve this diversity, the AGA’s panel on Gender Diversity and Inclusivity moderated by Maureen Kahonge of the AFRAA Secretariat sought to understand what the continent needs to do to encourage more women participation in the sector and recommended amongst other options a change in mindset of African women to believe that they have the physical and mental capacity to excel at other functions apart from being cabin attendants. As the CEO of Ugandan Airlines, Ms. Jenifer Bamuturaki noted there is a need for a mindset reorientation of the African woman in this regard, a position echoed by another female director at a leading African airline.

Funding is also necessary as many women who do have the interest to pursue flight operations career may not have the resources to train as pilots and in other functions that are more expensive.

Above, all using the example of the South African Civil Aviation Authority, the outreach to bring more women into leadership and aviation requires intentional set of actions that are measurable, target and data driven.

Examples of other airlines where women are in leadership positions will serve to reinforce the message. Across the continent, Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways have both carried out all-female flights. Recently in Nigeria, an all-female ATC conducted nationwide flights.

These are encouraging shoots but Africa needs to do more. Safarilink and other airlines are already leading the way here. The leadership cadre at Safarilink comprise about 70% women. But to achieve that measurable growth AFRAA may leverage on its reach and industry connections to request figures from its member airlines to identify other top performers, benchmark growth and progress and encourage others.

Embrace of Sustainable Growth

Africa has a responsibility to grow its air transport industry in a sustainable way, with the least impact on the environment. Economic sustainability demands that African airlines overcome their small size through consolidation, an often-stated fact but which has not achieved much by way of traction. Creative solutions and digitalization are critical if African airlines will compete in the global aviation industry.

Adoption of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is a step change in decarbonization expected to contribute up to 65% of decarbonization of the industry but SAF is still expensive and represents a huge outlay for any African carrier. Trial of SAF by Kenya Airways only served to underscore the huge costs and logistical quagmire in terms of sourcing, distribution and lack of infrastructure for SAF. Hydrogen flights are a long way in coming. But as the AGA noted, Africa must collaborate in finding solutions to the Net-zero efforts. As a continent with a huge capacity for SAF production, it is important that Africa positions itself to attract the funding in not just producing but the infrastructure to support SAF production.

Improved Connectivity, a Requirement For Africa

The AGA, in recognition of the need for improved connectivity on the continent devoted another session to the Single African Air Transport Market- SAATM. Mesfin Tasew Bekele, Group Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Airlines at the panel discussion described SAATM as a transformational initiative capable of changing the fortunes of the continent. But in the face of teething challenges, the panel recommended a regional approach to its implementation. Still as the Ugandan Minister of Works and Transport Honourable Edward Katumba Wamala reminded the Assembly “SAATM is not a magic wand” but its success depends on the implementation of the free movement of peoples of the continent and other continental initiatives. But it will be cheery news to the Secretariat of African Civil Aviation Commission on the indication by Uganda that it is working to join the SAATM.

Also, to operationalize SAATM, Mr. Abderahmane Berthe, Secretary General, AFRAA advised airlines to talk to each other when they plan to open flight services to other countries. Doing this, according to Berthe, could lead to partnerships on the one hand and on the other hand ease of granting traffic rights.

Time To Walk The Talk

As the stakeholders left their various homes to come under the moon in Kampala to discuss, it is the expectation, as the Vice President said, that when we gather under the moon in Cairo in 2024, the industry will be counting its achievements.

Is this possible? Yes, but as always time will tell.

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