How protectionism hurts Africa’s aviation industry

Aviation experts have said that protectionism by some African airlines is a challenge to the operationalisation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).

Launched in 2018, the initiative is a flagship programme of the Agenda 2063 of the African Union that seeks to ensure “the complete liberalisation” of air transport markets in Africa. This means free movement of airlines from one country to another.

Players in the aviation sector are meeting in Kigali for a three-day workshop, which opened Monday, August 29. Delegates are deliberating on a study on training needs analysis in the continental air transport industry.

Bernard Dzawanda, Senior Transport Economist with COMESA, said the impediment of the project that has been “on the cards for so long” is the fear of competition of some countries that have invested heavily in their own airline systems but remain small.

The same challenge was reiterated by other experts in the field.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and other regional economic communities signed a grant agreement amounting to €8million (approx.Rwf8.3billion) with the European Union to support the development of air transport sector in the Eastern Africa, Southern Africa, and Indian Ocean Region.

The four-year project aims at supporting the operationalization of the single aviation market, strengthen the regulatory and institutional capacity of civil aviation institutions, and improving air navigation efficiency in the region.

Dzawanda noted that the initiative would be beneficial in a way that it will introduce competition through which the quality of sales will increase and prices of air tickets will go down.

This will also drive the movement of people such that other sectors of economy like tourism and hospitality will be supported, he said, “Once there is increased demand for air travel, we expect also those industries linked to air transport market to benefit.”

There is a severe skill shortage in aviation relating to African personnel, according COMESA consultant for aviation project,

He attributes the skills gap to limited funding allocated for training and the fact that Africa is yet to understand aviation development as a key enabler of its economic growth.

Training needs range from customer service, cabin crew, technical handling, among others.

“There has to be much more classic model so that we can be able to bridge the skills gap. For the single aviation market to foster training, we need to harmonize a lot of policies, if one is trained in Rwanda, they should be able to get employed anywhere across the continent,” he emphasized.

That being done, we should be able to hold onto talent here by giving a better professional growth rather than having good pilots, well trained engineers go to the Middle East because the conditions are better there, he added.

Emmanuel Butera Mwesigye, the Consumer Protection Specialist at the African Civil Aviation Commission, finds that this scheme will help address the issue of intra-African expensive flight fares.

“We should be removing certain unnecessary taxes in our countries that hamper the growth of air transport.

Last year, air transport contributed less than five percent to Africa’s economy, according to Mwesigye.

Once there is an open skies market, it will facilitate economic growth and a viable competitive market as well as a well-designed intra-Africa connectivity.

Perhaps most significantly, the increase in air service can facilitate many other sectors of the economy by supporting increased trade, attracting new businesses to the region, encouraging investment, and enhancing productivity.

This article was published by the New Times newspaper.