ACI Africa is at the heart of driving innovative leadership for the African airport sector. The airport sector in Africa is witnessing huge investments in infrastructure, digital innovations brought on by COVID 19 are catching on, there is a renewed focus on safety and, importantly, the sector aims to be in sync with the rest of industry in promoting environmental sustainability. Aviation & Allied Business Journal spoke with Mr. Emanuel Chaves, President of ACI Africa in Abuja, Nigeria. He shares his vision for the sector and the direction of his leadership as ACI Africa President.
Safety is a priority
Our focus is to deal with the common problems Africa is encountering in the aviation sector. We have bad safety records from long time ago and we have to deal with it. How do we ensure that our airports are improving in the area of safety? By offering trainings; we had to organize several safety training programmes and we even had to merge those trainings into the African Airport Development Programme which we are running currently. To the training programme, we added technical assistance. Technical assistance is a service we are providing to our members in order to help them onsite to conduct site inspection and to implement the improvement required in order to enhance safety at the airport.
CapeTown International Airport
In order to integrate all those interventions that ACI Africa is doing, we are helping our airports to be certified because even in that specific area the records are not also good: only 30% of African Airports have been certified until last year (2022). During my tenure we would like to raise that to 50% of our airports being certified.
We know the trainings are very expensive. ACI Africa intends to help members by subsidizing the training fee with its financial reserve. For instance, with other organisations a one-week training may cost USD2000 but at ACI Africa we offer the same training at USD 500. This support is to ensure that more people have opportunity for training; which means more capacity and more capable staff because the issue of safety is not just about the infrastructure, we need our personnel to be able to handle all safety processes properly.
Taking Care of Business
Another area of focus for ACI Africa is the business side. Majority of our airports are not making money. Therefore, we are supporting SAATM as a tool to improve connectivity in Africa. By increasing connectivity in Africa there will be more traffic between African airports and with more traffic and passengers, revenue increase.
Besides that, we are also advising African airports on changing their airport management model. They need to diversify sources of revenue and make sure the airport is not just a place for landing and departing of aircraft and passengers, that these movements are not their only sources of revenue. They need to expand their revenue sources and improve the profitability of the airports. The business model is very important.
Another important aspect ACI Africa is working on and which is very critical is sustainability, the sustainability of the airport, not just environmental sustainability, but also operational, social and technical sustainability, sustainability in all fields of the airport processes to ensure that whatever is being invested in is long-term capacity and possibility of making the airport better.
For example, in Nigeria, we are assisting the process of certification of Abuja and Port Harcourt airports, and we are doing this at other African countries through the African Airport Development Programme.
ACI Africa’s Future Strategic Direction
We are now finalizing our strategy for approval in October. In my term as the president of ACI Africa, we would like to extend our intervention to even internal issues like the implementation of corporate (governance) principles within the organization, making sure that we are building capacity to help our members, because this also requires manpower within the organization, and making sure that we have enough staff and enough capacity to help many airports at the same time.
We are in the process of internal restructuring which will be approved in Dakar in October. So that from 2024, we will be implementing the new structure. This is the way forward
Airport Infrastructure Renewal in Africa
There has been a massive investment from 2010 till now in development of airport infrastructure and there were enabling factors like the agreement for airport infrastructure development in Africa and China playing a very important role throughout this process. Most of the terminals were built by Chinese and with Chinese funds.
This was not just about the willingness of Africans but it was recognized that one of the problems in Africa for growing traffic and aviation was the quality of airport infrastructure. That’s why there was a massive investment throughout Africa.
Most of the airports in Africa have been modernized and expanded and we are very happy with that but still as I said the whole improvement is not just limited to the infrastructure itself, there must be process improvements. This is why there are trainings to make sure that the airports meet international requirements and standards. In terms of infrastructure, there was a big investment. Just to give the example of Mozambique. Mozambique invested around US$500 million in the last 10 to 12 years.
Blaise Diagne International Airport
Technology Optimisation and Cost Recovery
It is a fact that most of the African airports, in their process of modernization, improved infrastructure as well as technologies at the airports. We are not at the level of the technologies in other continents. However, aviation being very global, it is expected that a passenger should have a seamless experience from one airport in developed countries to another in developing countries. But that will not be achieved in a very short time because as airports we invest having in mind that someone will pay because the first principle of airport management is cost recovery. When we make additional investments, we have to expect to increase our charges in order to recover our cost. But this is the problem. The airlines are saying we are charging much but at the same time they need us to invest more. These additional investments who will pay for them? The airlines assume that the investments already done are government funds and not (private) companies. But this is not the case everywhere. It depends on the country model. There are countries where the investments are made by (private) companies and there is a heavy debt servicing to fund the investment.
Technology can help a lot, but you should not expect a less-than-a-million-passenger airport, to have high technology in the airport. You can find the high techs in airports with a large number of passengers and high revenues because technology is not just about fashion. It must be for facilitation. For an airport with a large number of passengers technology can help but if you have very small number of passengers it may not be cost effective. Technology is a combination of resources to ensure that the service being delivered is functional. Installing touchscreen interface is necessary for large passenger airports, to speed up the process of check-in or to compensate for the small number of check-in counters but if an airport is using only 2 out of 15 check-in counters what do you need them for?
There are already technologies and other available sources of energy and Africa has a huge potential here. We have sun in almost 365 days a year. We have no problem of using photovoltaic types of energy. What we are advising our members is to start from identifying their priorities of investment, investing in their own photovoltaic types of energy at the airport, not only for their consumption but also to be used to supply the facility, and this is where the concept of energy hub comes in. The airports are advised to see environmental sustainability and Net-Zero as another source of revenue and cost reduction by using their own alternative sources of clean energy which will be adequate for continuous use and remove the need for backup generators.
Also, there are other sources of energy like hydrogen, which is also very important in the future. Each airport has to choose the way forward and invest in generating its own source of electricity that is from a clean energy source. Luckily, the airports are not the main polluters as carbon emission from airports is very little. Studies have shown that airports are not the major polluters. We really do not have to do much to achieve zero emission at the airport but we have to promote the process to ensure that the airlines are implementing practices that cannot add emission at the airport.