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ACI Africa Regional Conference & Exhibition: Good to be back


The association’s 30th anniversary, recovering from COVID and smart technology were among the topics covered at ACI Africa’s Regional Conference and Exhibition in Kenya, writes strategy and business development director, Romesh Bhoyroo.

The chance to meet face-to-face again at an ACI Africa event led to a healthy 300 delegates attending the ACI Africa Regional Conference and Exhibition in Mombasa, Kenya, on March 14-15, 2022.

In line with tradition, the event was preceded by 67th ACI Africa Board Meeting, Regional Committee meetings and workshops and, in Mombasa, followed by a free route planning workshop jointly organised with the African Airlines Association (AFRAA).

The theme of the conference was ‘A New Vision for a Resilient and Sustainable African Airport Industry’, and as a result covered a host of topics of interest to the continent’s airports.

These included sessions on the main challenges facing African airports in ensuring resilience; profitability and sustainability in the new normal; and debates about on air transport viability, smart technology, commercial revenues, air cargo and the liberalisation of Africa’s skies.

In total, the 300 delegates – a figure which surpassed our expectations bearing in mind the COVID situation – were treated to seven conference sessions and 40 presentations over the two-day conference, including two from keynote speakers, ICAO regional director Barry Kashambo and Angeline Simana, interim secretary general of the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC).

The event itself had 14 sponsors, and it was particularly pleasing to see a busy exhibition hall with 19 exhibitors that included a booth from the Office National Des Aéroports (OANDA), which will host the ACI Africa/ACI World Annual General Assembly, Conference & Exhibition in Marrakech, Morocco, later this year.

In his opening remarks at the conference, ACI Africa’s secretary general, Ali Tounsi, reflected on the 30th anniversary of ACI Africa, stating that it was important for everyone to take stock of its accomplishments and failures to prepare African airports for a stronger, safer, smarter and more sustainable future.

He said: “There have been times of glory and struggle down this 30-year long memory lane. We have accomplished a lot together, but we have a lot more to achieve together. We shall succeed through co-operation, integration and transformation, and ACI Africa will stand beside its members to enhance their competitiveness, attractiveness and ensure a seamless passenger experience.

“As drivers of tourism, trade and business, airports will not only be at the heart of economic growth but they will have to become environment flagships. In this context, each airport in Africa will eventually have to carve its roadmap to reach net-zero carbon by 2050.”

Also taking part in the opening ceremony, Alex Gitari, Kenya Airports Authority’s managing director, focused on the importance of co-operation between airports and other industry players, noting that this was the path to follow as “technology and innovation alone will not make for the successful recovery of international air travel”.

While KAA Board member, William Ole Maiyani, spoke about the need for airports and different industry stakeholders to adapt to the new operating environment and embrace digitisation as an experience enabler for travellers.

“Touchless biometrics will help reduce waiting time and improve the passenger experience, while e-commerce and digital co-operation between airlines and airports will boost retail opportunities and maximise revenue streams leading to financial stability,” said Maiyani.

Guest of honour, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing, Urban Development and Public Works, James Macharia, stated that Africa must focus more on domestic intra-country airport infrastructure to cushion its aviation industries from unexpected international crises.

He also spoke about enhancing partnerships, focusing on the fact that airlines are the biggest clients of airports, which together, support the tourism industry.

Macharia stressed that instead of seeing each other as rivals, airports and airlines should complement each other and advocated for public private partnerships in the airport sector to support infrastructure development.

He concluded by urging the industry not to overly depend on governments for support as this might slow down growth and development due to financial impediments and “red-tapism”.

In his keynote speech, ICAO’s Kashambo praised the leadership and vision of ACI in formulating unified industry practices that advance airport standards globally and address global challenges not only in Africa, but across the world. He also highlighted the key role ACI Africa and airports play, and will continue to play, in the liberalisation of air transport as well as through initiatives such as APEX in safety, APEX in security, A-CDM and the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme.

In her keynote speech, AFCAC’s Simana provided an update on the implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM). She presented the African Union vision for a united, prosperous and fully integrated Africa by 2063, embedded in the AU Agenda 2063, with one of the flagship projects being SAATM.

She stressed that SAATM seeks to create one single air transport market in Africa, liberalise civil aviation on the continent and drive economic integration, with AFCAC being the executing agency of both the Yamoussoukro Decision (SD) and SAATM.

Next up, ACI World’s director general, Luis Felipe de Oliveira, moderated a panel discussion called ‘Achieving a viable African air transport industry in a post pandemic era’ where, among others, Rwanda Airports Company general manager, Charles Habonimana; ACSA CEO, Nompumelelo Mpofu; and ONDA’s vice president for strategy, planning and sustainable development, Lahcen Farhat, did their best to address some big picture issues.

Speaking in the following session entitled ‘How can the tourism industry support air transport development in Africa?’, Kenya’s charismatic Cabinet Secretary Secretary for Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala, suggested three ways to enhance connectivity across the continent:

  • To consider Africa as one domestic market
  • Liberalise Africa’s air space
  • Eliminate the need for Africans to require VISAs to visit other
    African countries.

The latter point, in particular, he believed may help boost air travel across Africa, whose airports have never handled more than 230 million passengers a year despite the continent’s population of 1.3 billion people.

From an airport perspective, he noted that it was also time to make the airport experience more welcoming for travellers by making security less intrusive, opening more accessible and passenger friendly facilities, and fixing the basics such as enhancing signage, reducing queues and the hassle of Immigration/Customs/Health procedures.

He concluded by saying that the opportunities to enhance connectivity are many, and included everything from supporting the low cost carriers to drive demand in regional markets to increasing collaboration between tourism and aviation to “improve the quality of airport transport services and enhance Brand Africa”.

Highlights of the ACI Africa Board Meeting on Sunday March 13, 2022, included the launch of ACI Africa Magazine; Celebrating 30 years of ACI Africa; Updates on the African Airports Certification Assistance Programme and ACI Africa Airport Certification Software; and a session called ACI Africa Licence to Skill – The CPE Route to become an ACI Africa Airport Expert.

The event also saw ACI Africa sign a number of MoUs with its partners and members. The first was between AFCAC and ACI Africa, and underpins the co-operation and collaboration between the two parties through the co-ordination of certain activities and events.

These include joint projects and programmes, and the exchange of information, data and best practices to help achieve their shared objectives and enhance their effectiveness in meeting the interests and needs of their respective members.

ACI Africa also signed individual MoUs with Kenya Airport Authority, Senegal’s Limak AIBD Summa (LAS), Sudan Airports Company Limited (SACL) and Summa Airports (SA) in Niger.

Each MoU was set on the basis to further strengthen the existing co-operation and collaboration between both parties in a number of areas of common interest ranging from knowledge sharing and capacity building to assistance in maintaining aerodrome certification.

See you in Marrakech for the ACI Africa/ACI World Annual General Assembly, Conference & Exhibition in October 22-26, 2022.

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