Spotlight on Egis’ airport ambitions in Africa
Airport World talks to Olivier Baric, Egis’ aviation director for Africa, about the infrastructure specialist’s interests in Africa, potential challenges ahead, and why he believes that long-term partnerships are key to delivering on airport promises.
What is Egis’ involvement with African airports?
We are investors and long-term partner operators in three airports in the Congo and one in the Ivory Coast. In addition, we recently entered into two technical assistance partnerships with another two airports in Tanzania (Zanzibar) and one in Guinea (Conakry). All of this through our SEGAP joint-venture.
Our role depends on the scale and type of project. We are airport operators, airport investors, project managers, airport systems, equipment and infrastructure delivery experts and technical advisors. The common denominator in all of this is that we take a partnership approach to improving the operational, financial, and environmental performance of every airport we work with.
In Africa that can mean improving physical infrastructure, providing hands-on management support, capacity building and more.
These are long-term partnerships. For example, through our operating company AERIA, we have been running Abidjan Felix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport in the Ivory Coast for more than 25 years, and that involvement along with some €160 million of investment has led to some satisfying successes.
These have included Abidjan becoming the first Level 3+ certified airport in Africa in ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme. The airport was also the first to welcome the A380, and has won several ACI quality service awards.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a huge impact of course, and it caused a shift in some priorities, spotlighting health and safety, business continuity and resilience. The airport is recovering well now and looking to maintain its position as one of the main aviation hubs in West Africa by undertaking a major terminal extension to increase capacity.
How are Egis’ airports faring in the Congo?
We started there in 2011, working through our AERCO operating company. Brazzaville Maya Maya International Airport, which serves the capital, has seen considerable improvements since the start of the concession. A new passenger terminal and a new runway capable of handling the A380, make it a safe and efficient air hub in Central Africa.
It welcomed more than 600,000 passengers in 2019 and almost recovered its traffic levels in 2021-2022. Brazzaville offers many connections across the region and the rest of Africa as well as to Paris-CDG.
Elsewhere, Pointe-Noire Agostinho Neto International Airport, located on the country’s Atlantic coast, is gateway to the high potential ports of Central Africa. Passenger numbers have passed 500,000 thanks to a major investment plan, including the opening of a new passenger terminal in 2019 and the extension of the apron. Both airports were awarded the ACI accreditation for ‘COVID safe’ best practices in 2021.
And then there is the new Ollombo Sassou International Airport, opened in 2013, and located in the central plateaux region, rich in mineral resources, it provides access to a Special Economic Zone.
What do you see as the main opportunities for African airports going forwards?
Today, Africa accounts for less than 3% of global air traffic, so the continent’s air transport market has huge development potential and we can expect great improvements in regional connectivity and international travel within and across the continent of Africa. However, building a sustainable air route network that meets both domestic and regional needs, will mean addressing specific constraints and seizing the opportunities that arise. I see five key areas of opportunity and challenge:
– Supporting airline development
African airlines must collaborate to improve connectivity between countries and better serve the African market as a whole. This is essential if they are to overcome the structural challenges they face.
In the meantime, airport owners and operators should strive to contain airports taxes, fees and general airline operating costs to support the development of a fragile industry in these times of recovery. Traffic in Africa has recovered to 90% of 2019s levels, which is encouraging, but there is further to go.
– Building iconic, but efficient airports
Big is not always beautiful. Choosing to wait and optimise the capacity and efficiency of existing airport infrastructure can be a sensible approach.
A just-in-time investment decision can improve productivity by increasing the average utilisation rate of the infrastructure. This principle is especially important for smaller or emerging markets, where the volume of air traffic is still too low to generate (on its own) the minimum revenues needed to finance investments or even to fund airport operation and maintenance.
– Incorporating sustainability into planning and decision-making
The 21st century airport is designed with the right level of initial capacity and within the broader framework of a long-term development plan, allowing its evolution over time.
More than an architectural gesture, its design must be guided by ease of operation for all users, by the operating resources at its disposal and by acting on commitments to control its environmental footprint. This means prioritising renewable energy, opting for bio-climatic architecture, and simplifying future maintenance – all key elements for a sustainable and efficient airport.
– Achieving a balanced regulatory framework
This can contribute significantly to economic development. On the one hand, the development and implementation of national air transport regulatory frameworks needs to be clarified with regards the safety and security of air transport and to implement the Abuja conference safety targets.
While on the other hand, national regulations covering access to territories and associated conditions constitute a barrier to mobility on the African continent. The requirements and conditions for obtaining visas must be relaxed.
– Making the most of new technologies and digitalisation
Information sharing, co-ordinated flow and traffic management, cyber security, and the pooling and interoperability of systems and resources, are at the heart of the continent’s air transport development issues. At our Abidjan airport for instance, we are looking at implementing a passenger flow management tool.
The integration of drones into air transport, also to support airport operations, is another active and promising field. In the longer-term, Africa could also prove to be a promising market for the first fully or partially electric aircraft under development.
Where will the investment come from for all this?
The investments necessary for inter-regional traffic growth must be planned and developed at the regional level, integrating the specific constraints of each stakeholder. The result: a coherent and fair allocation of financial resources for a balanced share of value.
In this spirit, the fees charged for the use of infrastructure (which account for more of air transport costs in Africa than elsewhere in the world) must be strictly allocated to the service provided, reflecting the reality of the costs incurred and the risks undertaken by the beneficiaries.
The largest airports, capable of generating profits and therefore of interest to investors, should contribute to the financing of low-traffic, structurally unprofitable regional airports, sharing with them some of their technical resources.
Since 1988 we have been working through an investment vehicle called SEGAP. And in 2018 we set up a joint venture with AIIM, one of the leading infrastructure fund managers on the African continent to further support our long-term investment plans.
Today, all our African airports come under the SEGAP umbrella. It’s only by taking a longer-term view that we can achieve the stability required to deliver on promises and realise the huge potential that this continent offers.