International airlines lobby IATA this week unveiled its “Focus Africa” initiative, hoping that the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry, will get a more receptive African audience to rally around a strategy it is counting on to unstick the continent’s sluggish aviation sector and get it to perform to potential. The initiative will be officially launched in Addis Ababa on June 20-21, where partners and more details for each task area will be revealed.
During an advance presentation on the strategy to the African aviation press on April 3, IATA Director General Willie Walsh said he hoped that the initiative, which will align private and public stakeholders to deliver on measurable targets across six areas, “would strengthen aviation’s contribution to Africa’s economic and social development and improve connectivity, safety, and reliability for passengers and shippers.”
“Africa accounts for 18% of the global population, but just 2.1% of air transport activities (combined cargo and passenger). Closing that gap, so that Africa can benefit from the connectivity, jobs, and growth that aviation enables, is what Focus Africa is all about,” Walsh said, citing infrastructure bottlenecks, high costs, missing connectivity, regulatory impediments, slow adoption of global standards and skills shortages, as factors negatively impacting African airlines’ viability and sustainability.
Focus Africa aims to rally Africa’s aviation stakeholders to improve operational safety through a data-driven, collaborative program to reduce safety incidents and accidents, in the air and on the ground and to facilitate the growth of efficient, secure, and cost-effective aviation infrastructure to improve customer experience and operational efficiency. The initiative will also agitate for the liberalization of intra-African market access through the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM); accelerate the implementation of secure, effective, and cost-efficient financial services, and adoption of modern retailing standards. Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) concurs with this sentiment and is developing an online data library for members. AirInsight is assisting AASA in this project.
Support will also be directed towards helping Africa’s air transport industry to achieve the “Net Zero by 2050” emissions targets agreed to by the industry and the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) member states. In anticipation of a boom, if the strategy works, IATA will also promote aviation-related career paths to ensure a steady supply of diverse and suitably skilled talent to meet the industry’s future needs.
Air connectivity is critical
The airline lobby says that better intra-African air connectivity and global markets are critical for unlocking economic and social development opportunities. It is also pivotal to reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) for Africa lifting 50 million people out of poverty by 2030. According to IATA, trade and tourism in particular, which rely on aviation, “have immense unrealized potential to create jobs, alleviate poverty, and generate prosperity across the continent.”
At the launch, which was attended by Rwandair chief executive and first female Chair of the IATA Board of Governors (2023-2024) Yvonne Makolo, it was revealed that pre-COVID, aviation supported 7.7 million jobs and $63 billion in economic activity in Africa. Projections are for demand to triple over the next two decades.
“Africa stands out as the region with the greatest potential and opportunity for aviation. The Focus Africa initiative renews IATA’s commitment to supporting aviation on the continent. As the incoming Chair of the IATA Board of Governors, and the first from Africa since 1993, I look forward to ensuring that this initiative gets off to a great start and delivers benefits that are measurable,” said Makolo.
Walsh says the factors impeding Africa’s aviation sector are fixable, the potential for growth well defined; and the economic yield that a more successful African aviation sector will deliver has precedents. “With Focus Africa, stakeholders are uniting to deliver on six critical focus areas that will make a positive difference. We’ll measure success and will need to hold each other accountable for the results,” said Walsh.
With no shortage of still-born initiatives to jump-start African aviation over the past three decades, Kamil Al Awadhi, IATA Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East, emphasizes that the success of the latest push hinges on the unity of purpose. “Partnerships will differentiate the outcome of Focus Africa from previous efforts to stimulate Africa’s development with air transport. By partnering, stakeholders will effectively pool their resources, research, expertise, time, and funding to support the common goals of the six work areas,” he said. Al Awadhi also believes the timing is propitious. The disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the industry has made players more receptive.
“The tasks for Focus Africa are not new. Work is already underway as part of the work of IATA and other stakeholders in Africa. But after the financial trauma that the pandemic brought to African aviation, we are at a unique time of rebuilding. By launching Focus Africa now, we can ensure that the recovery from COVID-19 moves aviation to an even better place than we were in 2019,” he says.