The global representative body of the airline industry, the International Air Transport Association (Iata), has highlighted the problem of countries blocking the repatriation of funds by international airlines. This was a particularly severe problem in Africa, Iata director-general Willie Walsh told African aviation journalists during a virtual African Media Roundtable on Wednesday.
Currently, a total of $651-million in airline funds was being blocked from repatriation by 17 African countries. These were Angola, Algeria, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Walsh warned that if airlines could not repatriate funds belonging to them, this would affect airline route and frequency planning. Almost always, countries which prevented the repatriation of airline funds then suffered a reduction in international flights and so a reduced access to international markets. And, without the connectivity provided by aviation, economic recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic would be more difficult.
“This [Covid-19] crisis is the deepest crisis the industry has ever seen,” he highlighted. In 2020, airline revenues fell by 56% in comparison to 2019. But there were now some positive signs for the industry. Thanks to successful vaccination roll-outs, countries were beginning to reopen their borders. Canada, for example, would reopen its border with the US next month and with the rest of the world in September. Reopening was also happening in Europe, although Asia was lagging a bit.
“Africa [however] has been particularly challenging,” he cautioned. This was due to low levels of roll-out of vaccines and difficulties in accessing testing, coupled with very limited government support for African airlines. Indeed, even State-owned airlines had received less support than expected.
What was a concern was that African governments might delay implementing the liberalisation of the continent’s air transport market. If that happened, “it would be a shame,” commented Walsh. Experience on other continents had established that liberalisation benefitted consumers, and it would benefit Africa. He was certain that liberalisation would come to Africa, but the aftermath of the pandemic might delay its arrival.