African airlines push back against ‘invasion’ of European, Gulf carriers

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Published: July 25, 2011

Assn. of African Airlines Secretary General Elijah Chingosho last week lashed out at the “invasion” of the continent by European and Gulf carriers, questioning their “preferential treatment” over their African counterparts in obtaining traffic rights. He also accused Middle East aviation companies of “poaching qualified staff in a big way.”

According to data from AFRAA and Innovata, African airlines on average were responsible for 40% capacity, or 9,748 seats per week on intercontinental routes in the first six months of this year, compared to 60% or 14,505 seats by other operators. On Europe to/from Africa routes, African airlines’ capacity was 39% less than non-African operators for the month of June. On routes to/from the Middle East, Africa’s second-largest intercontinental market, the equation is even more unbalanced, with African airlines operating 401 weekly seats and non-African carriers operating 909 weekly seats.

“What we don’t understand is how airlines like Qatar and Emirates are able to gain access to certain African countries while African carriers face barriers,” Chingosho said. “If it is okay for Emirates to fly a daily route, why can’t an African carrier?”

Speaking to ATW on the sidelines of the Connectivity in Africa conference organized by Embraer in Nairobi, Chingosho warned about the potential detrimental effect of a brain drain on African aviation, citing the recent example of Abu Dhabi-based MRO specialist ADAT, which recruited 17 experienced staff from Ethiopian Airlines in one week. “Not only has that removed a huge number of vital staff that the airline has invested in with training over the years, it has also put the viability of that airline at risk,” he said.

But the outspoken AFRAA secretary general, who took up his post Jan. 1, also threw the buck at African governments and airlines for holding back the growth of the air transport industry on the continent by imposing higher than global average taxation and impeding liberalization. All African states signed the legally binding Yamoussoukro agreement in 1999, calling for the liberalization of intra-African air transport within a two-year time frame. Nothing has happened so far.

“There is no reason why Yamoussoukro should not be fully implemented,” he asserted. “The only reason is that there are airlines, some big ones and some smaller ones, that go behind the scenes and prevent the liberalization.” Fed up with the protectionist approach of some members and their governments, AFRAA is now working with and lobbying for the so-called CREW, “Club of the Ready and Willing states,” to move on with liberalization on a more regional scale and “show the protectionist countries the benefits of opening up the market.”

Chingosho reiterated his belief that Africa must address safety and that the EU blacklisting “has done nothing to improve the safety of African airlines” ( ATW Daily News, May 2 ). He claimed that “many stakeholders here believe that adding so many African airlines on the EU blacklist is primarily a commercial action driven by the French government to protect French operations.”

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