Improving safety should be the top priority for the aviation industry in Africa to address, according to Muhammad Ali Albakri, regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East of the International Air Transport Association (Iata).
“Sadly, Africa suffered the loss of an Ethiopian Airlines plane earlier this year after having had zero jet hull losses and zero fatal accidents for a third consecutive year in 2018,” he said on Saturday during a media briefing ahead of the start of the 75th annual general meeting of Iata taking place in Seoul, South Korea.
He emphasised the need for more countries in sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) to meet the global standards for aviation safety. Currently only 26 countries in SSA comply with this.
That is why Iata continues to work with the aviation industry on the continent to enhance and complement the safety oversight role played by individual states.
“Aviation creates about 6.2 million jobs in Africa and there are more opportunities in the industry going forward,” said Albakri.
“The demand for air travel by people in all the major hubs in Africa is expected to grow. If open skies and free movement over borders in Africa can be established, the current number of air travellers could even be tripled”.
That is why he sees the second biggest priority for SSA aviation as having to be that of building increased connectivity.
“In Africa connectivity is a big problem. Distances that should take a few hours can take days simply because the connectivity does not exist,” explained Albakri.
“This inefficiency has an economic cost. The low density of the African intra-continental network makes it impossible to realise the potential benefits of a connected African economy”.
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Despite 28 African states already having declared their support for the African Union Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM) project, practical steps are needed to implement it properly. This has to be a bilateral process, according to Albakri.
“We continue to work with our members to find practical ways to move forward. There is huge potential, but we cannot underestimate the difficulty this open skies project faces in Africa,” he added.
“All the studies that led to the introduction of SAATM shows the states believe it in the benefit open skies and connectivity would bring and they signed up in good faith. Hard work is now needed to implement those agreements”.
Iata will continue to work with regulators and governments to make sure they can address the prerequisites for the implementation of SAATM.