Type to search


Focus on Africa


ACI Africa secretary general, Ali Tounsi, considers some of the main challenges and opportunities facing Africa’s aviation industry and tells us more about the goals and ambitions of ACI Africa for the year ahead.

Africa’s aviation industry is no stranger to challenges and while many of the traditional, and indeed global ones of safety, security and investment in new infrastructure remain, arguably the biggest hurdle to overcome in terms of future traffic growth is connectivity, and specifically connectivity within Africa.

As the secretary general of the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), Adefunke Adeyemi, reminded us as the ACI Africa/World Annual General Assembly, Conference and Exhibition in Marrakech last October, Africa has a population of 1.4 billion spread across a landmass of 30 million square kilometres – big enough to fit the US, China, India and parts of Europe combined inside its borders – yet a number of obstacles currently restrict growth and connectivity between African airports, resulting in only around 100 million of the continent’s huge population flying today.

To address the problem, the African Union is pushing for its flagship project, the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) to advance the liberalisation of civil aviation in Africa and act as an impetus to the continent’s economic integration agenda.

SAATM is designed to ensure that aviation plays a major role in connecting Africa, promoting its social, economic and political integration and boosting intra-Africa trade and tourism as a result.

This belief is supported by an IATA survey that suggests that if just 12 key African countries truly opened their markets and increased connectivity, an extra 155,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be created in those countries.

However, the implementation of SAATM is not going as smoothly, or as fast, as ACI Africa would have liked, and is therefore one of the key challenges and opportunities facing the African aviation industry in 2023.

Challenges to the implementation of the SAATM

A solemn commitment to the potentially game changing development is one thing, but unconditional implementation is another ball game.

The key to the success of SAATM rests with the government of each signatory State and this, unfortunately, is a major issue as there is little unity between many African countries. Each State has its own priorities and challenges in terms of domestic and political issues to deal with, and in some cases, geopolitical tensions and even wars exist between neighbours.

As a result, with a few notable exceptions, we have come to accept that the desire for a concerted focus and action on regional and continental co-operation and collaboration is not high on the agenda of African States. And this is crucial as most, if not all the institutions and organisations responsible for trade, tourism and air transport in Africa are controlled by governments.

This level of control means that most strategic decisions need to have the endorsement and blessing of governments, which sometimes makes it difficult or even impossible to move initiatives forward.

For example, to date only 35 of Africa’s 54 States have commited to the implementation of SAATM, and we believe that this number has peaked. The 35 are Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Egypt, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The total includes 94% of the countries in West Africa, 80% of the States in Central Africa, and 64% of those in Southern Africa. For the problematic sub-regions of North and East Africa, we believe that SAATM should be implemented on a route network basis.

For example, Ethiopia and Kenya implementing SAATM through the intra-Africa routes served from Adis Ababa and Nairobi.

In a nutshell, we need to be pragmatic in our approach to SAATM as we will never get the buy-in of all stakeholders to implement it. This means that the roadmap for its implementation should be done by sub-region and route network-wise in order to reap the benefits of the SAATM and set the example for the others to follow suit.

To the credit of AFCAC, a new ambitious campaign to accelerate air connectivity within Africa, the SAATM Pilot Implementation Project (SAATM PIP), was launched last November, starting with 19 SAATM-ready States with a strong willingness to operationalise the initiative in their respective State.

Opportunities created by the implementation of SAATM

An open and competitive landscape brings more opportunities to grow, whilst instilling a dose of efficiency at all levels of the business, in order for the aviation industry to remain fit, healthy and on top of its game.

SAATM will eliminate the need for Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) between countries, which would effectively allow African airlines to more easily operate scheduled flights to any country in the continent.

Under SAATM, for example, Ethiopian Airlines could fly passengers from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) to Accra (Ghana), where they could disembark and further proceed with another set of passengers from Accra to Niamey (Niger) on an onward flight without the need for new entry documentation. Such services can transform intra-Africa connectivity by making countries much more accessible.

To clarify, under SAATM, countries will no longer be able to choose which airlines serve their airports in order to protect the interests of national airlines or non-African carriers at the expense of other competent African airlines.

Under the framework, African airlines have access to a larger market which will increase their revenue. More importantly, even for countries that do not operate a national airline or have few flights that connect their countries, under SAATM, there will be flights moving in and out to connect people for business and tourism and aid the swift movement of cargo across the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Airport Infrastructure – challenges and opportunities

Africa has a poor track record in liberalising air transport, which significantly hinders connectivity and competition, and this environment has certainly done little to encourage investment in the continent’s airports.

As history has taught us, air transport liberalisation benefits airports of all sizes as a more liberalised environment allows airlines to fly to secondary airports and capture untapped markets, which in turn makes them more attractive to potential investors when circumstances allow.

Airport infrastructure is, of course, a key component of air connectivity and naturally increasing traffic allows airports to invest in adequate airport infrastructure to meet capacity demands.

However, funding new infrastructure remains a key challenge for Africa’s airports, especially with so many remaining under the control of cash strapped governments. To add some perspective, the proportion of passenger traffic handled by State-owned airports in Africa is estimated to be at around 90% compared to the global average of 57%.

That is not say that Africa’s airports have escaped the attention of private investors with Egis, Groupe ADP, the Limak Group and TAV Airports among the global airport operators to hold an interest in gateways across the continent.

And although ACI Africa does not favour any particularly ownership model, it cannot be denied that the few African airports managed by private consortia have proven to be big successes in terms of the quality of the additions to their airport infrastructure.

These have included new terminals and airside infrastructure which improved safety and security as well as the quality of services offered to travellers.

You will be able to read about some of these airports and their private investors in the ‘Africa’ themed section of this magazine.

Visa-free Africa

With the full implementation of SAATM seemingly unlikely any time soon, the industry continues to look at ways of making travelling around the continent easier and more convenient for passengers, and removing the need for visas for intra-African travel would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Visas are, of course, in use across the world to restrict travel from certain countries, and if these barriers were removed, more people would almost certainly travel to destinations that they cannot easily visit today.

We support the Africa Union’s Free Movement of Persons Protocol (FMPP), which calls for visa-free travel within Africa by regarding the continent as one domestic market.

High cost of travel in Africa

Airport taxes and charges in Africa are still largely determined by the State with most airports requiring government approval to raise or lower their charges and often having no say whatsoever in the taxes and fees imposed upon them and subsequently the airlines.

Under SAATM, an open playing field will be created where there is a single regulation for the setting up of tariffs, capacity and frequencies for air carriers.

I am sure that this will be a huge relief to airlines as they know that the tariffs imposed on them will be subjected to the terms of a regulatory agency under SAATM rather than the whims of individual African governments. The upshot of this that some airlines will enjoy significant tax reductions going forward which will help lower their operational costs.

Strategic focus of ACI Africa 2023–2025

The strategic focus of ACI Africa for the next three years coincides with the taking into office of the new board members of the association for the period 2023 to 2025.

We plan focusing on three fronts – Air Transport Development in Africa; Sustainable African Airport Industry; and Safe and Efficient African Airport Operations.

– Air Transport Development in Africa

ACI Africa is determined to bring its contribution in the implementation of SAATM, albeit on a route-network or regional basis in Africa, supporting AFCAC’s SAATM PIP along the way.

We will continue to work with regional institutions such as the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), African Airlines Association (AFRAA), ICAO’s Eastern and Southern African (ESAF) and Western and Central African (WACAF) offices, and CANSO, amongst others, in order to ensure a consistent approach towards the implementation of the SAATM.

– Sustainable African Airport Industry

ACI Africa will leave no stone unturned to ensure that Africa does not get left behind in aviation’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The sustainable development of Africa’s airports and protecting the natural environment are key priorities of ACI Africa.

In 2021, for example, the ACI Africa Board set up our Environment and Sustainable Development Regional Committee in order to enhance African airports’ commitment to minimising the impact of aviation on the environment and maximising the effective and efficient use of limited resources.

We are particularly proud at the way African airports have begun to embrace ACI’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme, which is the only global carbon management standard for airports.

At the time of writing, 24 African airports have achieved Airport Carbon Accreditation certification – 11 at Level 1 ‘Mapping’ status; nine at Level 2 ‘Reduction’; three at Level 3 ‘Optimisation’ and one at Level 3+ ‘Neutrality, status – showing a good initial commitment to the ICAO State Action Plan on CO2 emissions reduction.

Of Africa’s accredited airports, arguably Abidjan Felix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport (Ivory Coast) leads the way having achieved Level 3+ Neutrality status followed by Dakar Blaise Diagne International Airport (Senegal), La Réunion Roland Garros Airport (Réunion) and Enfidha-Hammamet International Airport (Tunisia), which have reached Level 3 ‘Optimisation’ accreditation.

On another front, ACI Africa has launched the Sustainable Aviation Academy (SAA) in partnership with its business partner ENVISA, with a first series of six courses linked to the theme of sustainable airports.

Within the ambit of the our African Airports Development Program (AADP), the SAA online platform provides participants with a unique and flexible learning experience, with each course delivered over a period of four weeks, inclusive of modules and assessments to be completed online as well as mid-term live webinars with an instructor.

Participants are thus able to gather knowledge and expertise in sustainable airport development at their own pace. The first batch of airport personnel have already followed the Environmental Management System course.

– Safe and efficient African airport operations

It is worth noting that Lomé Airport in Togo took part in the pilot programme for the ACI Airport Excellence (APEX) in Safety initiative in 2011 and since then a total of 55 APEX in Safety and 11 APEX in Security peer reviews have been conducted across Africa, with six airports conducting both.

It has been observed that only about 50% of airports which have conducted an APEX in Safety review have eventually been certified, which does raise concerns about their ability to successfully implement the review’s recommendations and handle more traffic in the future.

The situation makes us believe that we need to follow up the APEX in Safety reviews to find out more about this disconnect as well as encourage all the uncertified airports which have yet to conduct any APEX review or any other similar assessment to join the programme.

Thus, another ACI Africa initiative designed to complement the APEX programme and help the growth and development of our airports is the formerly mentioned AADP initiative.

The AADP initiative is essentially designed to help African airports achieve excellence in management, operation and capacity building by helping and supporting them in their certification process with expert assistance and training, amongst others. The sharing of experience and expertise amongst African airports is another key feature of the AADP.

ACI Africa has already undertaken a number of such certification assistance missions, including a major one currently under way for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *