Aviation, and air cargo in particular, must be prioritised if the African free trade agreement (AfCFTA) is to reach its full potential, delegates at Air Cargo Africa in Johannesburg heard this morning.
AfCFTA is the world’s largest free trade area, incorporating the 55 countries of the African Union (AU) and eight economic regions. Part of the continent’s Agenda 2063 strategy, it aims to boost income by $450bn and lift some 30 million people out of poverty.
However, warned airline executives, connectivity across Africa is still poor, limiting its potential.
“The free trade agreement is fantastic, but it won’t work if we don’t grow the aviation business,” said Allan Kilavuka, CEO of Kenya Airways. “African countries don’t prioritise aviation. They see it as expensive.
“But aviation has to work for the AfCTFA to work. Governments must prioritise aviation; you can’t transport goods efficiently by truck from Nairobi to Lagos, for example, it has to be done through aviation.”
Also part of Agenda 2063, the Single Africa Air Transport Market now has 34 signatories, but more is needed to be done, said Sanjeev Gadhia, CEO of Astral Aviation. “There are a lot of restrictions, many of which restrict African carriers, but not foreign carriers. We need to provide connectivity to less-accessible places, and the skies in Africa need to be open.”
Khangi Khoza, CEO of Swissport South Africa, agreed connectivity was crucial, adding: ”Some countries don’t have flights to their main trading partners.
“We need to grow faster than the continent is allowing us to.”
Turkish Airlines flies to 53 destinations in Africa, said Cornelis Paul De Man, SVP cargo sales for the carrier. “We see a lot of microflows emerging from destinations that aren’t so common.
“We keep increasing capacity, but there is still a need for more.”
Mr Gadhia also called for more freighters in the market, but said Africa tended to be at the back of the queue for conversions, and “companies like Amazon and the integrators are at the front. We don’t get priority.
“But the continent needs more freighters, there are not enough. Foreign carriers with freighters are seeing the opportunity here, but African countries can’t meet it.”
Astral has some 15 freighters. he said: “If any of our partners wants a freighter they can borrow one of ours. We need more African airlines to have freighters.”