Single air transport market essential for African air cargo sector

20th February 2019 By: Rebecca Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative, which has so far been signed by 28 countries, is of great significance for the continent's air transport sector. So affirmed participants in a panel discussion at the Air Cargo Africa 2019 conference and exhibition.

"SAATM is a very important initiative," stated Kenyan airfreight airline Astral Aviation founder and CEO Sanjeev Gadhia. "It is the initiative that is going to save the air transport industry in Africa." He pointed out that the continent was divided by what he called "walls in the sky", with many African countries shutting out carriers from other African countries. "This is a continent that is disconnected." Also, air transport in Africa was expensive. These barriers had to be broken down.

"Our overflight and navigation costs are 6% to 9% higher than in Europe," highlighted Kenya Airways COO Jan de Vegt. "Tyres [for aircraft] are expensive. We use 50% more tyres than an airline in Europe, because of the state of the runways [in Africa]." He added that the growth of intra-African air transport would be driven by passenger traffic, as the air cargo flows between African countries were still limited.

"The challenge will be [SAATM] implementation," cautioned Ethiopian Airlines Cargo and Logistics MD Fitsum Abady. If it is implemented, "SAATM will give a good solution."

"The biggest problem is political will ... to implement it," observed South African Association of Freight Forwarders CEO David Logan. "It is taking a long time."

International Air Transport Association global head: cargo, Glyn Hughes, pointed out that Africa needed investment in manufacturing (in general) as well as de-regulation, in order to stimulate the developed of the continent's air freight sector. "We're looking at developing sustainable [product] flows," said De Vegt. "And with sustainable flows you have sustainable air cargo."

African air cargo was growing at about 5% a year, stated De Vegt. "We're not a cargo carrier by accident. We're a cargo carrier by choice." Gadhia reported that his company was planning to set up hubs in West and Southern Africa. Abady explained that his operation intended to be a leading air cargo player in Africa and globally and was investing both in large cargo terminals and in aircraft. It was also investing in human resources, especially logistics specialists, as logistics professionals would be the scarcest element in the African air cargo industry.

By 2025, Gadhia hoped that the SAATM and the African Continental Free Trade Area would have been implemented and that Africans would be doing more trade with other. De Vegt agreed with him. "It is in everyone's interests, in all countries in Africa, to implement these agreements," asserted Logan. "The biggest thing will be integration. ... integrated services ... integrated markets," affirmed Abady.