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Africa must remove barriers to flight to secure post-pandemic boom, says IATA regional executive

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CNN Business spoke with Kamil Al-Awadhi, IATA’s vice president for Africa and the Middle East, about the future of African aviation. The following interview has been edited for clarity and duration.

Kamil Al-Awadhi: Before entering Africa, in general, the aviation industry is worn out. It is not a failure of the aviation industry itself, but is more man-made by governments and authorities that were blocked for a year and a half after Covid-19. This has killed an industry that depends on a five- to ten-year plan.

It’s a global problem, with governments and borders closed every time there’s a new variant and no collaboration: if a country opens up, it doesn’t make sense because you need the reciprocal country to accept travel.

In Africa, this is even worse. There seems to be a complete disconnect between states in agreeing on how to do things, there is little government support for the aerospace industry and excessive PCR costs [Covid-19] the tests make the trips unbearable.

Have you seen an increase in air cargo demand?

Al-Adwahi: When you want commercials [stopped running during the pandemic] everyone tried to throw themselves into the load and there was a sudden increase in demand. Fortunately, the payload is probably the revenue stream that has kept aviation alive for a long time.

When governments needed to administer urgent vaccines or when hospitals ran out of essential medical supplies, they turned to the airlines for support for the cargo, and the airlines responded immediately and supported the governments. But when it came to getting help or financial help from governments, very few airlines got it.

The load has been very positive in Africa. He has supported the aeronautical industry and maintained jobs, whether at the airport, ground assistance agents, and so on.

An IATA member Ethiopian Airlines plane offers Covid-19 vaccines as part of the UN-led Covax initiative.

Pre-pandemic, Africa became one of the fastest growing aviation regions in the next 20 years, according to IATA. Do you think you can regain that position?

Al-Adwahi: It is about getting all the relevant stakeholders to sit at a table and understand the importance of alignment. Once you overcome this hurdle, I think you will see a boom that will make history in Africa.

The key to this is to have a “African single market for air transport”(SAATM). Instead of having each country working in separate silos, we will get all African countries to work under an umbrella, a set of rules, a market. Once you do that, the barriers fall.

If we look at the European internal market, aviation is recovering very well. If we look at the United States, pre-coverage numbers occur. China is the same. If we could turn Africa into a domestic market, we would have exactly the same condition. We recently presented the final document to SAATM, which contains guidelines on how it should work: 35 countries have already joined, which is very positive.

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How can we work again with the restrictions currently in place?

Al-Awadhi: The lack of scientific background in this decision-making process is causing chaos in aviation. Vaccines should not be the only prerequisite for travel. I think it’s essential to do PCR testing on the go, but PCR costs should be controlled. In some African countries it costs up to $ 500 per PCR test, so if a family of four wants to travel, it will cost $ 2,000 just to leave the country and probably the same to return.

The increase in procedures is slowing down airport traffic. At some airports that handled 100% of traffic in 2019, it would take 45 minutes from A to Z. It now takes three to four hours, with only 30% of traffic. We estimate that as traffic rises to 2019 levels, the passenger could experience a six-hour delay due to all the credentials they must carry. IATA has created a file digital travel pass to facilitate it.

I would love to see governments rethinking their position on support for the aviation industry, specifically the airlines that desperately need to support the country’s infrastructure, jobs and GDP.

Are you optimistic about the recovery of the African aviation industry?

Al-Awadhi: Overall, I am very optimistic. Governments are having more knowledge about the coronavirus and how to manage it, and now they feel economical. I think the last quarter of this year will experience a boom, as long as the “Echo variant” or the “Foxtrot variant” doesn’t show up and everyone panics.

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