For the most part of 2020, the aviation industry in Africa and the rest of the globe suffered the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry is now grappling with restart and recovery, relying on the ‘Take-off’ Guidelines developed by the Civil Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to contain the possible spread of the pandemic through air transport.
As 2020 draws to a close, ICAO Council has announced its endorsement of new updates to the CART’s ‘Take-off’ Guidelines for international air transport. According to the Chair of the Recovery Task Force, Estanislao Esono Anguesomo of Equatorial Guinea, the latest task force updates focus “primarily on the evolving technological and medical advancements in the fight against COVID-19,” indicating also that “they incorporate the continuous feedback ICAO is receiving from national authorities, international organizations including the World Health and Tourism Organizations (WHO/UNWTO), as well as regional organizations and industry.”
While these new updates have been welcome by industry organizations, among others, ICAO Council President, Salvatore Sciacchitano, also emphasized that “countries are urged to follow this updated guidance to align their measures, while upholding each State’s prerogative to implement additional and/or alternative mitigation measures in accordance with their specific needs and circumstances.”
These renewed industry guidelines are expected to engender increased confidence among air travellers who must be constantly updated on the continued safety of air transport. The guidelines are also expected to encourage countries to open their borders safely to drive sustainable air transport and economic recovery.
These collaborative efforts to preserve the safety of air transport must now be complemented by improved service quality among African operators, who must also re-align their business strategies, adopting collaboration, new technology and prudent management of lean financial resources. We commend Overland Airways and Syphax Airlines who recently joined the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), thus enlisting in the culture of collaboration and partnerships which AFRAA is fostering among African airlines.
More importantly, African States and regional finance institutions must take the urgent step to ensure that African airlines, already facing possible collapse from the effect of the COVID-19, receive immediate and robust financial support for sustainable recovery. Governments must prioritize air transport as a core infrastructure for economic development, and therefore, expunge notorious taxes, charges and fees from the industry, and improve the air transport operating environment in Africa.
The sustenance of robust air transport activities in Africa is vital to drive the implementation of Africa’s continental goals including the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) and related African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and also enhance economic recovery and sustenance of livelihoods on the continent.
Already, there is renewed confidence for accelerated implementation of the SAATM/ Yamoussoukro Decision (YD), as revealed during the celebration of the 21st Anniversary of the YD on November 13, 2020. Regional Economic Communities (RECs) must take leadership to foster immediate implementation of SAATM within their regions, given that currently only 34 States have signed the Solemn Agreement for the SAATM and 11 States ready for its immediate implementation.
As industry recovery from the impact of COVID-19 is not expected until 2023-24, the year 2020 and 2021 must be utilized as a transition period for African governments, African operators, institutions and industry partners to work collaboratively to improve on Africa’s air transport operating environment and service quality, to enable African air transport industry drive economic recovery and development in Africa.
Capt. Edward Boyo