IATA Vice President for Africa and the Middle East Kamil Al-Awadhi is willing to “name and shame”, as he embarks on a 68-point Marshall plan to lift African aviation performance to match closer to its latent potential. It is a herculean task that demands getting hundreds of people with often conflicting interests on the same page. But Kamil believes it is time to try to do things differently. Will Kamil Al-Awadhi’s “Marshall” plan for African aviation fly?

Speaking on the sidelines of Aviation Africa 2022, Kamil said he will “literally” commit all his resources for 2023 to Africa, a continent that still accounts for less than 2% of global aviation and still lags behind Europe when it comes to safety and infrastructure. The business contributed $63bn to Africa’s GDP and 7.7 million jobs, half a million direct in 2019. 

In Kamil’s view, considering her population and resources, Africa’s share of global aviation should be somewhere close to 15%. His mission is to bridge the gap in the shortest time possible.  A key pillar of his strategy is to blow wind into the Single African Air Transport Market SAATM; which has largely remained on paper since its launch in January 2020, despite more than half of the member states of the African Union signing up to it. 

What will it take to get Africa to where Europe is today for Aviation? About June I had to start budgeting for my next year’s adventures and it is literally all budged for Africa.  So, in 2023 myself and my team and all resources I need from Geneva Montreal, Singapore, or Miami, or wherever, will be in Africa trying to get Africa close to Europe, to that standard. That is my pledge,” Kamil said adding that it is doable because everything from the knowledge, manpower, equipment, and resources, is available. 

Four-step approach

He plans to kick off his plan that addresses 68 issues using a four-step approach – building consensus around the problems, the root causes, a corrective plan, and action. 

If you apply this while you are cooking a meal or fixing an airline or re-regulating your aviation industry, it is the same four pillars. I have been using this all my adult life and I have thousands of examples to show that this approach works. If you are not honest about your problem, you are not going to fix anything,” he says. A key pillar of his plan is to boost African passenger traffic by opening up the region’s market. Improved intra-African connectivity would not just boost domestic air traffic but have a knock-on effect on international traffic as well.  

He plans to sit with stakeholders from 14 countries that have signed up to SAATM and get them on a round table where they can harmonize their views of the benefits of open skies and commit to opening up among themselves.  The conversation will revolve around demonstrating to participants how removing constraints such as capacity caps and reducing taxes on the industry can boost traffic and result in a much better overall picture.  

Every trip I make into Africa, I can’t get into any country directly, I have to go through another country. It is a continent that is so disconnected that it is easier to jump out and then back in to make it to the country next door,” Kamil says.  I am pushing and hopefully by January 2023, we are starting to push all stakeholders with the intention to, first of all, get some routes internally so that you can move within Africa easily.” 

A key number he has set his sights on is Africa’s 1.9% share of global aviation traffic. “We want to get that up. I want to see these numbers next year jumping a percent at least. If it goes up it means we are going in the right direction, if it goes down, we are going in the wrong direction. IATA is going to pour as many resources as it can afford into the region to get it up and running,” he says. 

He finds it ridiculous that African leaders cannot see the obvious benefits of SAATM, a 34-year-old document that since 1988 has been changing guises first as the Yamoussoukro Declaration in 1988, the Yamoussoukro Decision in 1990 and more recently, SAATM in 2020. It is the same cat for God’s sake and I can say it’s worth its weight in gold,” he says of the latest iteration to which 30 of Africa’s 54 member states have already signed. We just need to coordinate as a continent, and get moving.” 

Going forward he urges Africa to take an honest look in the mirror and acknowledge its shortcomings. 

Let’s look at how Africa has performed and let’s be honest because I can say something that is nice and sweet for everybody’s ears, I can say you are a handsome guy but it serves no purpose when everybody can see he is ugly. So being honest is the first step to moving to improve things. If something is wrong, we can’t tiptoe around it and say, great job man“.  

Conflicting motivations

The challenge he sees to SAATM is conflicting motivations which have created a degree of mistrust. Some countries wanted it because they believed it help them gain continental dominance; others did not sign up for fear their markets would be flooded by foreign carriers, while some countries signed without understanding what it meant and did so under pressure from peers. 

When you have that combination of lack of clarity and mistrust it’s not going to move. My first round will be getting all stakeholders and may maybe 10 to 14 countries and airlines, ministers, and regulators on the same table and get them to understand there isn’t any threat; and you don’t have to if you don’t want, we are neutral but these are advantages and we can be fair to make sure that this system works for everybody and not for some and against others,” Kamil says of his long shot. 

I have literally put all my resources for 2023 into Africa. I have 68 self-made targets for 2023 by my team and we are hitting Africa very hard. But I need the African continent to help me. It is my promise that I will get Rwanda and it’s my promise that I will get something that will get the ball rolling in Africa in 2023″

SAATM however, only addresses the commercial aspect of Africa’s aviation doldrums. Safety is actually the number one issue in Kamil’s 68-point agenda. For instance, there are still significant swathes of uncontrolled airspace. There has been some progress, but problems remain. 

We have improved the continent’s safety but there is room for improvement,” Kamil says.  “IATA’s IOSA program has made great strides in improving safety at the airline level. By getting more airlines to sign up, safety performance will improve across the board. But the game changer is getting regulators to insert IOSA standards into their regulatory regime because it goes “above and beyond what regulatory authorities want.” 

If you comply with IOSA you are managing an airline safely and Kamil has signed a number of MoU’s with countries, like Togo, adopting IOSA standards into their national regulations which require airlines to be audited every two years. South Africa is expected to come on board soon and converting more regulators is a major goal for 2023. 

I am famous for naming and shaming. If they don’t move when it comes to safety, I am not going to compromise; I will name and shame” Kamil warns. 

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Michael Wakabi

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