Efforts are under way to fulfil the potential of Gabon’s air transport sector by improving national infrastructure and strengthening the regulatory context. Numerous projects are expected to boost both passenger numbers and sector competition in the medium term.
NEW INFRASTRUCTURE: The sector’s primary infrastructure project is a proposal to construct a new international airport in Andème, a relatively undeveloped area 67 km north of the capital, that will replace Libreville’s Léon M’Ba International Airport. Feasibility and construction studies began in late 2011, and the project is expected to take 10-12 years to construct once fully launched. While switching to the new facility in Andème may cause some disruption, Gabonese officials expect the new airport to ultimately be a boon for the sector.
The selection of a larger 1500-ha site will provide room for expansion and should accommodate a greater volume of both passenger and freight traffic, although the size of the new airport has not been confirmed. In addition, its construction outside city limits will provide the benefit of greater distance from concentrated residential areas and promote the development of suburbs. Development of this area may create up to 3000 new jobs, according to government estimates. Proximity to road, railway and port infrastructure also mean the potential for Andème to be established as a future intermodal transport hub. The National Agency for Public Works has announced a tentative budget of €608m for the airport’s construction, and the Islamic Development Bank has expressed interest in funding the project.
IMPROVING REGULATION: The National Civil Aviation Authority (Agence Nationale de l’Aviation Civile, ANAC), created in 2009 to replace the former sector authority, has helped Gabon to conform to international standards for air travel, regulation and safety practices. Following an unfavourable audit of the previous regulator by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in 2007, Gabon was placed on an EU blacklist. As a result, locally registered airlines, with the exception of European carriers and a handful of African carriers including Gabon Airlines, were prohibited from landing in the EU. The creation of ANAC and its subsequent collaboration with the ICAO are considered to have raised standards for air safety practices in Gabon. Officials are optimistic that a second ICAO audit, which took place in late August 2012, will yield positive results and lead to the re-establishment of access to European destinations from Gabon.
NEW AIRLINES: The EU blacklist was one reason why Gabon Airlines, a private carrier serving domestic and international destinations, ceased operations in 2011. ANAC revoked Gabon Airlines’ licence in April 2012, and while the carrier still exists as a corporate entity, it is unlikely to return to solvency. Rather than rejuvenate Gabon Airlines, the government has hinted at plans to create a new, state-owned national carrier. The project remains in the conceptual phase, as authorities wait for the official results of the ICAO audit.
The potential market entrance of new air carrier Air CEMAC may also have an impact on the sector. Plans to create a regional air carrier in Central Africa have been discussed since 2001, but little progress has been seen as of mid-2012. South African Airways withdrew as the airline’s strategic partner in February, and the project has been stymied by the creation of competing national airlines in member-states Congo-Brazzaville and Cameroon in 2010.
However, Air France signed on as the project’s strategic and financial partner in July, providing motivation to get the airline off the ground. Congo-Brazzaville was selected to serve as the company’s headquarters, and member countries are reportedly eyeing a January 2013 launch date for the airline.
Therefore, strengthened air transport infrastructure in Gabon, the entrance of at least one new airline and the potential reopening of the European market for local carriers will contribute to increased competition in Gabon’s air transport sector in the medium term.
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