The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is worried about congested European airspace, which is likely to cost airlines 35 years in delayed time by 2025. It is an irony that while airspace in Europe is congested, Africa’s airspace is virtually empty due to SAATM low implementation. WOLE SHADARE writes
The air transport network plays an important role in today’s globalized society. The connectivity it generates is a key element for the competitive position of European countries, regions and cities. It drives consumer and wider economic benefits.
A superior connectivity performance minimizes travel costs for passengers, businesses and shippers. Aviation facilitates global contacts, mobility and trade. It stimulates productivity, trade, Research and Development (R&D) and foreign direct investment (FDI).
In addition, the aviation industry is a major industry in its own right, supporting about 12 million jobs and 4.1 percent of Gross Domestic (GDP) in Europe.
Europe is in a strong position in terms of connectivity. Since the start of liberalization of the European air transport market about 25 years ago, consumers have benefitted from connectivity growth within Europe as well as to/from other world regions.
These gains include more directly and indirectly served destinations, higher frequencies, shorter travel times and lower fares. The connectivity gains have substantially reduced consumer’s costs to get from A to B and induced significant consumer welfare benefits, as well as gains for the wider economy. But there are challenges to deal with if these gains are to continue.
Sufficient capacity both in the air and on the ground and an efficiently organized airspace are key in this respect.
However, the European air transport system is not operating at its optimum level. Flight trajectories are longer than needed. On average, flights in European airspace are 3 per cent longer than the great circle distance between origin and destination airport.
Airspace inefficiencies and capacity bottlenecks cause delays of around 10 minutes per flight. In contrast to the US, which has just one single Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), Europe has 38 ANSPs to handle approximately the same geographical area, resulting in higher than needed costs of Air Navigation Service Provision for airlines and passengers.
Examples of these costs are higher ANSP user charges and longer than needed flight trajectories, with associated fuel burn and environmental burden. But the much-needed modernization of European airspace is progressing slowly and is lagging behind the targets set. Furthermore, airport capacity is expected to fall short of future demand growth.
The continued congestion of the airspace is a source of worry to the clearing house for airlines. The Director-General of IATA, Alexandre de Juniac had during an interview at the just concluded IATA 75th Annual General Meeting in Seoul, South Korea stated that that compiled minutes of delay runs into about 36 years if the situation continues till 2025.
Just like the bottlenecks faced by Africa to have a unified single African airspace, which has lingered for about 20 years with slow implementation of Yamoussoukro Declaration, Europe seems to be facing a more intriguing decision to have single European airspace. This has even lingered more than the much talked about Yamoussoukro Decision. That is where the comparison ends. While Europe has gone to develop its air transport sector albeit with some bottlenecks, Africa is still confused on what to do.
While on one hand they support Single African Air Transport Market [SAATM], on the other hand, they are very reluctant to open their airspace as the still consider Bilateral Air Services Agreement [BASA] far and above a policy that would make them prosperous and face competition if they are to survive in the highly competitive aviation industry.
The IATA chief lamented that what is happening in Europe is similar to those of Yamoussoukro Declaration, which has been there 20 years ago.
His words, ‘Firstly, it is political reason. You are touching on a subject that has sovereignty, economic reasons because some of the incumbent airlines owned by governments want to protect their airspace and their operators against what they perceive as threatening competition.
“They also think that it will kill any initiative of national carrier and the reasons they don’t want to open their borders. It is all about political control, sovereignty issues. It is protection, political issue.”
Getting air traffic to and through a country gives a proven boost to trade, tourism and other economic activity. Countries and cities that have managed to do this have been handsomely rewarded. While Africa’s geography gives it the potential to become a hub for flights from Australia to the Americas, from China to South America, and many other routes, that is no more than a threshold advantage. Getting airlines to fly to a city rests on issues that Africa still struggle with – not just inadequate infrastructure, but also a scarcity of Africa-based international airlines, poor route management, insecurity and a failure to generate tourist interest.
Many African nations lack national carriers and some of the international airlines that do exist are loss-makers – South African Airways is one example. People obviously cannot fly to or through a country if there are no airlines to take them there. Furthermore, internal connections between many African cities are poor or non-existent.
We regularly talk about the need to develop a ‘United Africa’ to enable air transport to grow to its full potential and the need for enhanced connectivity and cooperation within the Continent.
Part of the reason for Africa’s under-served status is that many African countries have continued to restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers. This practice originated in the early 1960s when many newly-independent African states created national airlines, in part, to assert their status as nations.
It has been a long journey with lots of talking but very little action, albeit there has been limited liberalisation in certain regional economic blocs and between certain markets. Now, the industry in Africa appears to better understand the economic benefits of a more liberal regime and moving from a general protective stance of state interests. We are now the closest we have ever been to allowing Africa to fulfil its aviation potential.
Africa covers over 30 million square kilometers and is home to more than a billion people. Due to its challenging terrain, air transport is often the best—sometimes the only—way to connect the continent. Africa needs safe, efficient and affordable air transport links to make the most of its people and resources.
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