African Aviation at a Threshold

Left to right Ali Tounsi, Secretary-General, ACI Africa; Angela Gittens, Secretary General Airports Council International World, Engr Saleh Dunoma MD FAAN, President of the ACI Africa Executive Board at the event

In the African aviation industry, the cup is half full. There are still many things to be done to explore the full potential of the industry in Africa like its counterparts in other regions of the world. Yet with its obvious shortcomings, the African sky is replete with opportunities.

In the past decade, air transport within the continent increased steadily with passenger numbers and freight traffic growing by 45% and 80%, respectively. Not limiting the growth to an intra-continental affair, the continent is also among the fastest growing region in the world in terms of international traffic. For a continent that accounts for about 15 percent of the entire world’s population with 250 airlines in its airspace operating just 5.5 percent of the world’s commercial passenger and freighter aircraft, there is an enormous opportunity on the horizon.

The aviation industry in Africa is currently at a threshold. A very decisive move must be made in order to consolidate on its gains so far. At this point, opportunities provided in the industry, which single-handedly supports about  million jobs (including about 300,000 direct jobs) should and could do more sustainably. Also, stakeholders in the industry need to explore more innovative ways of gaining patronage by reducing airfare and generating revenue from non-aeronautical assets.

An air transport industry which leverages heavily on revenues derived from value added services could be the gentle nudge that brings the continent’s aviation industry to the next phase of its huge potentials. The result would also boost the continent’s economy.

Little wonder then, that major players in the African skies are working assiduously to transform their business model to meet the challenge and capture the economic opportunity the rise in air travel presents. They are investing in upgrading infrastructure and capacity, improving services and transforming customer experience. African Airports are transforming from state-run entities to flexible businesses that concession services to the private sector and build infrastructure under public private partnerships. Private sector investment in African airports has played a critical role in improving services and increasing revenues. In Nigerian, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has for example built a six-level car park at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport under a PPP.

Asides that, the big players in the industry have collaborated on essential quality assurance issues, including security, to prepare for the impending takeoff of the industry. For example, in 2013 Airports Council International (ACI) and IATA signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly develop Smart Security (SmartS). With the MoU, ACI and IATA were able to better align their resources and expertise to improve the journey from kerb to boarding. Passengers will be able to proceed through security checkpoints with minimal inconvenience, security resources are allocated based on risk, and airport facilities are optimized.

ACI Africa, which represents the interests of African airports with governments and international organisations, has also been able to push the envelope further by recommending policies, consulting and organising training programmes to help airports businesses across africa in its value delivery. ACI Africa performs these functions through four regional committees: Safety & Technical committee; Security & Facilitation committee; Economics & Environment committee, and Human Resources committee.

ACI Africa’s focus on safety led to the initiation of the globally acknowledged Airport Excellence (APEX) in safety programme. This has recorded great achievements with a drastic decrease in the number of incidents and accidents in Africa. The international airports at Lagos and Abuja were recently certified thanks to the APEX programme.

African Aviation
Left to right Angela Gittens Secretary General Airports Council International World, Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Federal Government, Engr Saleh Dunoma MD FAAN, President of the ACI Africa Executive Board

APEX in safety was initiated to close gaps in the continent’s aviation industry. Safety is a major issue of the industry. Hitherto most airports weren’t certified, they hadn’t met the safety standards of ICAO and local civil aviation industries. Hence the decision to focus on safety.

The year 2016 is a shining testimony to ACI Africa’s endeavours. That year, in sub-Saharan Africa there were no fatal accidents. This was region’s best safety performance in the last 10 years, according to IATA. As the biggest economy in the sub-saharan Africa, Nigeria maintaining the momentum already attained. For this reason, the country recently hosted safety experts from ACI to review the Kano and Port Harcourt airports for international safety standard certification. Kaduna and Enugu airports will also go through the process.

Also, FAAN, under the leadership of Engnr. Saleh Dunoma, signed an agreement to become one of the global training centres of ACI. With this comes a training programme to develop African safety experts. Consequently, there will be more qualified African safety assessors. FAAN has also signed up to ACI’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ), to measure passenger satisfaction at the international airports in Lagos and Abuja.

More recently, the agenda to take Africa’s Aviation industry to the next level was the focus at this year’s 59th ACI Africa Board and Committees Meetings & Regional Conference and Exhibition. Over 300 delegates and participants from all over Africa attended the conference in Lagos from April 14th to 20th, 2018 at the Lagos Oriental Hotel, Lekki.

Dunoma, who is the current President of ACI Africa executive board along with Dr. Bernard Aliu, ICAO council president, Angela Gittens, Director General ACI World and Ali Tounsi, Secretary General, ACI Africa and other delegates from over 40 African countries with over 250 airports were at the conference.

The event themed “Business Transformation for Sustainable Development of African Airports”, explored various aspects of making airports sustainable businesses, from public-private partnerships to non-aeronautical revenue sources. It is my hope that a fresh chapter in the African aviation industry has been initiated as a result of all the brilliant ideas from the six-day deliberation in Nigeria.