Updated: Mar 12
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Regional Aviation Forum took place in Nairobi, Kenya on September 17, 2019. The forum's thematic concern this year was 'Aviation Connecting and Enriching Africa', where aviation leaders from across the region, and indeed globally, came together to discuss and tackle issues pertinent to the industry.
The host airline and principal sponsor of the forum was Kenya Airways, flag carrier of the Republic of Kenya. Notably, in attendance were Mr. Muhammad Ali Albakri of IATA (Regional Vice President - Africa and Middle East), Mr. Michael Joseph of Kenya Airways (Chairman), Mr. Sebastian Mikosz of Kenya Airways (Chief Executive Officer), and Ms. Esther Koimett of the Kenyan Government (Principal Secretary - Transport).
In his welcome address, Mr. Albakri outlined the economic importance and potential harboured by the aviation industry to the African continent, where IATA predicts a 4.6% annual growth rate over the next 20 years, which is second in the world only to the Asia Pacific region where a 5.2% year-on-year growth is predicted. He singled out the case of Kenya by way of the 'Value of Aviation in Kenya' study, where aviation is forecast to grow by 249% and the boost to the country's GDP by 2037 is expected to more than double to an estimated US$11.3 billion. Where aviation safety is concerned, he noted that Africa was the only region worldwide to have recorded a decline in aviation related incidents in 2018 over the previous year.
However, Mr. Albakri did also point out that multiple obstacles continue to stand in the way of the sector's prosperity in Africa. One of the main problems is the high taxes and charges imposed upon airlines and passed onto the African consumer, which include navigation and airport charges which stand at about 45% more than the global average, not forgetting fuel costs that are 41% higher than the world average. This has resulted in a mere 19% average use of runways in Africa. To overcome this, he highlighted aviation safety, infrastructure development, and capacity-building of the industry's workforce as priority areas to unlocking the sector's full potential on the continent.
This sentiment was echoed by Mr. Joseph of Kenya Airways, who called for greater collaboration among African airlines, and a phased approach to the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), a flagship project of the African Union Agenda 2063 meant to enhance intra-African air transport connectivity. Through a study of 12 key African states commissioned by IATA, SAATM was shown to have immense benefits if fully implemented, which include an additional contribution of US$1.3 billion to GDP, the creation of 155,000 new jobs, and a 25-35% fare reduction which would stimulate an additional 5 million new air passengers among the states.
Several panel discussions held throughout the event gave insight into multiple issues of concern to the industry, including economics and sustainability, digitization of operations, aviation safety, and the workforce required to take the sector in Africa to greater heights.
A key takeaway from these sessions was the importance of drone technology to enhancing connectivity across remote areas in Africa. Astral Aviation, a cargo airline based in Kenya, is at the forefront of pioneering groundbreaking technology to further this agenda. There was also a call for increased upskilling of Africa's youth to enhance the demographic's readiness to seize the benefits that the aviation industry is poised to unleash across the continent. Additionally, given the increased prominence of the #flygskam (flight shame) movement in various parts of the world due to environmental concerns, it was noted that on the contrary, the global aviation industry is actually leading in environmental consciousness. Less than 2% of carbon emissions globally stem from the industry, and initiatives such as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) are playing their part in ensuring a sustainable operational environment.