Why air cargo sector in Africa is lagging behind

Regional airlines suffer from high cost of fuel, bilateral traffic agreements that are more than half a century old

 Musa Radoli

Despite International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s positive outlook on growth for Africa, the continent continues to face enormous challenges in developing air cargo business.

A board member of International Air Cargo Association (TIACA), Sanjeev Gadhia, says it is a sad reality that only 15 per cent of air cargo business is carried out by Africa-domiciled carriers.

He attributed the poor showing by African cargo carriers to a litany of problems  which include lack of liberalisation, restrictions on traffic rights and limited intra-Africa connectivity.

This is in addition to lack of co-operation among African airlines, high cost and taxes in fuel and airport services, inadequate infrastructure and lack of capacity building and training.

Aviation experts say it is often cheaper to fly something from one African country to the other via the Middle East than directly.

However, Gadhia who is also the vice chairman of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Cargo Task Force and chief executive officer of the Nairobi-based cargo airline, Astral Aviation said there are still opportunities for the continent to grow this sector.

“African countries, led by Kenya, offer enormous opportunities in air cargo business, especially to serve its middle-class population and its youth. Sixty per cent of the population is below 30 years, which is an added advantage,” he said while highlighting problems facing the air cargo sector.

Gadhia said there is also hope for Africa with the ratification of the much-awaited “Single African Air Transport Market” in January  by 23 of the 54 African countries, said Gadhia.

“This initiative has created a single unified air transport market in Africa, boosted the liberalisation of civil aviation and an impetus to continent’s economic integration agenda,” he said.

Other priorities for 2018, include a lobbying effort for the reduction of taxes and charges which will generate more demand and connectivity and increase the intra-Africa traffic by 20 per cent by an active participation in AFRAA’s “Route Network Co-ordination Project’.

Foreign carriers

Gadhia said while the benefits of a single unified air transport market will be enjoyed by African airlines, it is likely that foreign carriers will place more importance  to codeshare and joint venture agreements. “Foreign airlines that operate into Africa rarely co-operate with local carriers with the exception of interline agreements in the form of SPA’s (Special Pro Rate Agreements,” he added.

However, he said, the evolving environment offers unique opportunity for TIACA and AFRAA to form a joint project which would enable carriers from both associations to enhance co-operation.

According TIACA Secretary general,Vladimir Zubkov,  exploiting available opportunities in the sector will, however, not be without challenges if lack of attention paid to cargo during  the recent 49th Annual General Assembly of AFRAA in Rwanda is anything to go by.

“After that event, air cargo issues virtually were non-existent in the statements. Even e-commerce was reduced basically to the sale of air tickets online and convenience of using smartphones for buying, boarding and using in-flight, where Wi-Fi is available,” he said.

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