Remotely addressing the fifty-second annual general meeting of the African Airlines Association on Monday, International Air Transport Association (Iata) director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac highlighted the damage that the continent’s airlines have suffered as a result of travel restrictions imposed to counter the Covid-19 pandemic. He also stressed the danger this posed to African economies and called for the aid announced for the continent’s airlines to be disbursed.
“We all support efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic,” he emphasised. “It is our duty and we will prevail. But policymakers must know that this has come at a great cost to jobs, individual freedoms and entire economies.”
In Africa, aviation traffic has fallen by 89% with revenue losses of at least $6-billion, but probably more. In the wider economy, five-million African jobs were endangered and the continent’s aviation-supported gross domestic product could drop by 58%, or, in monetary terms, by $37-billion.
“We are in the middle of the biggest crisis our industry has ever faced,” he pointed out. “As leaders of Africa’s aviation industry, you know that firsthand. Airline revenues have collapsed. Fleets are grounded. And you are taking extreme measures just to survive.”
Four African airlines had already gone under, and two more were in administration. The sector needed the continent’s governments to act, and act fast, to prevent a “calamity”.
There were two top priorities for the sector in Africa. One was the release of promised financial aid. “Over $31-billion in financial support has been pledged by African governments, international finance bodies and other institutions, including the African Development Bank, the African Union and the International Monetary Fund,” he noted. “Unfortunately, pledges do not pay the bills. And little of this funding has materialised. And let me emphasise that, while we are calling for relief for aviation, this is an investment in the future of the continent. It will need financially viable airlines to support the economic recovery from Covid-19.”
The other priority was to reopen borders in a safe manner, by using testing and not by imposing quarantines on travellers. People, he observed, still wanted to travel. But travel had been made impossible by border closures and other restrictions. No-one wanted to travel if it meant having to undergo 14-day quarantines. Of the 44 African countries that had reopened their borders to international and regional travellers, 20 still required travellers to be quarantined for 14 days. Systematic testing, before departure, provided a safe alternative to quarantine and would bring to an end the severe economic and social damage being caused by the pandemic.
“Our industry will, no doubt, be changed by this crisis,” said De Juniac. “But flying will return. Airlines will be back in the skies. The resilience of our industry has been proven many times. We will rise again. We are the business of freedom. For Africa that is the freedom to develop and thrive. And that is not something people on this continent will forget or lose their desire for.”