Interview: Gervais Koffi Djondo
How can intra-African air transport be facilitated?
GERVAIS KOFFI DJONDO: This is a crucial issue. Intra-African air transport will only become a reality the day we understand the importance of consolidation, and decide to regroup and partner with one another. For instance, in West Africa – excluding Nigeria – one regional airline would be enough to cover market needs. If that were to happen, that airline would have significant resources, with high quality human capital, which could help to create a credible and safe airline industry. It is also important to remain 100% private, and have significant financial resources to purchase aircraft in order to increase flight frequencies and routes, as well as other more reasonable prices. Air transport is a sector that requires a significant amount of funding before it can reach a profitable and sustainable financial position.
How would you characterise the major challenges to the liberalisation of aviation in West Africa?
DJONDO: According to the framework of the Yamoussoukro Decision, it is up to our governments to roll out the liberalisation of air transport in West Africa. For instance, there needs to be a more level playing field between foreign and local airlines. Currently, some African countries favour European and Middle Eastern airlines because they promise technical support and high passenger traffic, and they account for 80% of intercontinental routes departing from Africa. Equal treatment between African and European airlines should therefore be a priority for the aviation sector.
The current level of competition does not significantly influence airline ticket prices. However, the heavy tax burden on flight tickets in West and Central Africa far exceeds the usual rates in East Africa. Taxes can account for more than 50% of ticket costs. Indeed, airport fees in West Africa, including landing fees and fuel, are among the highest in the world. For all these reasons, it has become imperative for regional airlines to work and cooperate closely together, towards the objective of reducing these costs to a more reasonable level.
What can be done to improve the financial viability of airlines within Africa for the future?
DJONDO: First of all, African airlines face governance and management issues. With a few exceptions, most of the current larger African airlines are 99% state-owned companies. One could even question the rigour of their approaches to management. Similarly, insufficient capital means that these companies cannot buy reliable aircraft, while at the same time, aircraft maintenance is very expensive, not to mention renting costs.
Therefore, before creating an airline, meticulous feasibility studies must be carried out, and if the project reaches fruition, the companies must be managed by highly competent professionals who have come from the private sector. Partnerships can be beneficial, but everybody needs outside financing at some point, even partners, and ultimately, investors want returns.
To what extent can local technical skills cover the maintenance needs of African airlines?
DJONDO: Apart from Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Tunis Air, Air Algeria and Kenya Airways, only a few airlines in Africa have highly equipped maintenance centres. Such facilities not only require human resources, but also investment. It is only by consolidating and regrouping airlines that we could pool the technical resources required to create more competitive centres for aircraft maintenance.
In what ways can commercial aviation security be strengthened over the coming years?
DJONDO: In order to improve their security records, African airlines need to give a greater focus to respecting maintenance schedules. In July 2012, the Abuja Declaration on Aviation Safety adopted a plan of action aiming at strengthening regulatory oversight. It also aims to gradually decrease the rate of accidents and reach the global average by 2015. Unfortunately, African countries suffer from a negative perception, to which the European Union blacklist contributes greatly.
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