South African Transport Minister Dipuo Peters has urged other African countries to join the eleven (including South Africa) that, in January, decided to liberalise air transport between them and create a single air transport market by 2017. She did so in a speech officially opening the recent Aviation Stakeholders Convention, which was delivered on her behalf by Department of Transport director-general Pule Godfrey Selepe. “This [agreement] is a massive achievement for the aviation industry on the continent as a whole,” he read. “Africa is big enough for all member States benefiting from joining these eleven countries.”
Peters expressed an understanding for those countries that wished to protect their national airlines, but pointed out that this was damaging air transport in Africa as a whole. “Liberalisation can lead to increased service levels and lower fares.” In turn, these would facilitate trade, tourism and enhance economic growth and development. She highlighted how those African countries which had already liberalised air transport on a bilateral basis had benefited as a result. These included South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia. Liberalisation of the South Africa–Kenya route in the early 2000s had, for example, increased air travel between the two countries by 69%.
She also pointed out that agreements which allowed low-cost carriers to operate between African countries had, in particular, led to fare reductions. However, within the Southern African Development Community, some countries were maintaining closed air transport regimes.
Peters also highlighted the importance of air safety. “South Africa remains committed to supporting safety initiatives. . . . South Africa is a key member and participates in regional air safety groups and initiatives.”
Peters was seconded by Director of Civil Aviation in the South African Civil Aviation Authority Poppy Khoza in her subsequent address to the convention. She also argued that Africa needed to liberalise its air transport sector. “We need to implement the Yamoussoukro Decision as a matter of urgency.” The decision mandates the liberalisation of the continent’s aviation sector. Implementation of the decision will stimulate development, economic growth, investment and employment across the continent and should be done speedily, she argued.
“States do need to remove trade barriers [between] each other,” she stated. “It has become clear that Africa will have to focus on benefiting from the forecast [economic] growth.” Yet, while not one African country has fully implemented the Yamoussoukro Decision, 23 have signed ‘open skies’ agreements with the US.
Because the implementation of the decision has been slow and limited, its benefits have not yet been realised. “In Africa, we have the greatest number of landlocked countries in the world,” she pointed out. “This increases the need for air transport.”
Moreover, the continent’s middle class, currently about 200-million strong, will continue to grow. “Africa has long remained an untapped source of aviation growth.” It is essential that the African aviation sector benefits from this situation. But, currently, 82% of intercontinental traffic to and from Africa is carried by non-African airlines. “We have only 18% market share.”
“There is a growing need for fast, efficient transport between countries, especially in Africa,” she said. “If we could unite in our efforts to open up Africa, we could offer competitive [ticket prices]. As a continent, we still need to work on cheap transport.”
This need for cooperation was another theme of her address. “Strong partnerships are indeed essential,” highlighted Khoza. “I would encourage each country to reach out to the continent with its particular strengths.” She observed that a lot of progress had already been made, including through the International Civil Aviation Organisation and its regional bodies, councils and seminars. She also cited South African technical support and specialised training for the aviation sectors of other Southern African countries. “There is a strong need for us, as an industry and a continent, to collaborate.”
The Aviation Stakeholders Convention was held at Emperors Palace, at OR Tambo International Airport, east of Johannesburg.