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OTHER ARTICLES Last modified on December 13, 2012

Out of Africa: ACI Africa’s regional secretary, Ali Tounsi

ACI Africa’s regional secretary, Ali Tounsi, considers some of the key issues facing the continent’s airports. 'Air transport supported 700,000 jobs and $21 billion to the continent's GDP'

ACI Africa currently has 59 members operating 200 airports, which handled 152 million passengers, 1.79 million tonnes of cargo and 2.5 million aircraft movements last year.

Although the passenger traffic was a little disappointing following the 162 million passengers that passed through the continent’s airports in 2010, both cargo volumes (+2.6%) and air traffic movements (+0.6%) were up.

And, the good news is that the latest ACI forecasts predict that passenger traffic in Africa is expected to grow by around 5% yearly to 2029, making the region the second fastest growing aviation market in the world alongside Latin America-Caribbean.

The fastest growing region during this time is anticipated to be Asia-Pacific, which is predicted to grow at 6.3% per annum.

African airport business success will mainly be driven by the growth of the African economy, which continues to develop at a rapid pace.

Indeed, over the next five years, GDP growth in Africa is expected to outpace the growth of the Asian economy.

This should come as no surprise, however, as over the last decade, five out of the world’s top ten fastest-growing economies were African nations, led by Angola, which grew faster than China, at an annual average rate of 11%.

Furthermore, between 2011 and 2015, it is predicted that seven of the top ten growth countries will be African nations.

Africa’s social and economic development depends heavily on air transport. The combination of large distances, marked by difficult and inhospitable terrain, and an underdeveloped ground transport infrastructure, means that air transport is the only real option.

ACI Africa fully supports the liberalisation of African and world air transport markets as history has proved that opening up markets is one of the biggest stimuli for air traffic growth and a competitive air transport industry.

But we do not just support liberalisation for the mere sake of higher passenger and cargo traffic numbers – we also endorse it because of the social and economic advantages it brings to countries as a fundamental condition for the development of the airport business.

According to the latest study by the Air Transport Action Group, of which ACI is a member, in 2010, air transport supported around 700,000 jobs (direct, indirect and induced) and over $21 billion to African GDP.

In addition, there are nearly six million jobs supported through the catalytic impacts of travel and tourism, and a total contribution of $67.8 billion to GDP in Africa.

Government policies
Airports must be granted sufficient freedom from restrictive government policies to enable flexibility to adapt infrastructure to attract new airlines or retain incoming airlines.

After all, there is no such thing as one size fits all infrastructure, and each airline has its own modus operandi and expectations, and attracting new routes is the key to bringing prosperity to communities.

Furthermore, to attract more airlines and passengers to airports, changes in governmental taxes or policies on airport operating hours can contribute to higher passenger numbers for airports.

Public Private Partnerships
Airports must be financially sustainable in order to play their role in enhancing, or at least facilitating, travel into and out of their communities. The role inevitably involves infrastructure investment to not only accommodate current traffic, but to handle the forecasted increase in passenger traffic.

As previously stated, over the next five years the average African economy will outpace Asia in terms of GDP growth and as traffic demand rises, new infrastructure will be needed to meet demand.

In Sub-Saharan Africa alone, annual airport investment needs are expected to reach $800 million per year by 2015.

With many African governments lacking the funds to invest in the development of airports, we expect to see more Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) projects in the future.

In terms of tourism, tourism boards can provide the framework to positively position a ‘destination’ to the wider international market; and both public and private entities can contribute to promotional budgets that may be used in support of the development of new air services.

Safety & security
On the airport side, ACI Africa looks at four key elements that define success as part of a destination’s attraction: safety, security, customer service and sustainability.

Safety is the bedrock for all aspects of aviation and the airport has to play its part. For ACI Africa, safety is one of our key priorities. Our APEX in Safety programme is one of our best tools to ensure safer airports worldwide.

In fact, in Africa, we have some of the highest accident rates in the world and APEX is an important tool to address this reality. It unites a community of airport experts in a peer review system where safety experts in a specific field can lend their expertise where it is needed, most worldwide.

APEX also provides the necessary framework for airports around the world to benefit from, and lend, the knowledge and experience of their safety experts in identifying and prioritising the actions that individual airports can take to reduce risks.

Three African airports – Lomé-Tokoin Airport (Togo), Maputo International Airport (Mozambique), and Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (Zambia) – were among the six airports across the world to take part in the APEX pilot programmes earlier this year.

ACI’s APEX in Safety Programme can help us to decrease incidents of accidents at airports, and having safer airports is a definite plus in air service development. 

Security is a component of safety that also helps to protect lives and property from external purposeful acts.

What we ask from our governments and from ICAO is that provisions for security should be risk-based and flexible. One size fits all does not work. More flexible security provisions can enable airports to remain compliant with international standards, remain secure and maintain and attract new routes to airports by virtue of having secure and internationally compliant operations.

Customer service
Customer service cannot be taken for granted. Airports in other regions have focused heavily on the level of service that is offered to passengers and we must do the same.

Quality of service at the airport is an important component in attracting air carriers, travellers and businesses to airports.

To be competitive, airports in Africa must be prepared to make investments in the quality of their customer service, either directly or through PPPs. We must not be fooled by the rhetoric that airports are monopolies. Just like businesses and air carriers, airports have choices that they can make to be more competitive.

ACI’s ASQ programme can help airports to improve their customer service rankings and levels of efficiency, by offering services that are better adapted to passenger needs. Its passenger satisfaction surveys – completed every month by passengers – allow airports to listen to the voice of passengers, plan improvements and benchmark their customer services against other airports.

In an era of increasing competition for passenger traffic, delivering consistent high levels of customer service can drive passenger loyalty and positively impact airport revenues.

Governments, the business sector, the tourism industry and airports have many options when it comes to stimulating air service development in benefit of the social and economic development of the African region. Each one has a role to play.

Multi-stakeholder collaboration and cooperation is key to air service development in the social and economic benefit of all. 

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