In an interview for CNN’s Connecting Africa, Kamil Al-Awadhi, the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Vice President for Africa and the Middle East, spoke about the future of African aviation.
Africa was set to become one of the fastest growing regions for aviation over the next two decades. But the coronavirus pandemic slashed global passenger traffic by 66% in 2020 and stalled the pace of growth in Africa.
Al-Awadhi says that while the aviation sector globally is “in tatters” following lockdowns and border closures, the situation in Africa is “even worse.” He explains why, “There seems to be a complete disconnect between states on agreeing how to do things, there’s little support from governments to the aviation industry, and the excessive costs of PCR [Covid-19] testing makes travel unbearable.”
The IATA VP believes that the key to a quick recovery, and to a wider aviation boom for Africa, is having a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).
Al-Awadhi details what this would mean and how it could speed up the recovery, “Instead of having each country working in separate silos, we’re going to get all the countries in Africa to work under one umbrella, one set of rules, one market. Once you do that, the barriers get dropped. If you look at Europe’s domestic market, aviation is picking up beautifully. If you look at the US, it’s hitting pre-Covid numbers. China is the same. If we can convert Africa to a domestic market, then we would have the exact same condition.”
As restrictions on travel look set to remain in place, Al-Awadhi stressed the need for government cooperation with airline companies to lessen complications, “The lack of scientific background in this decision-making process is causing mayhem in aviation. Vaccines shouldn’t be the only precondition for travel. PCR testing at departure is I think essential, but PCR costs should be controlled.”
Despite all the setbacks, Al-Awadhi is confident that the aviation industry in Africa will recover. He tells CNN, “Governments are getting more savvy about coronavirus and how to handle it, and they are feeling the pinch now economically. I think the last quarter of this year will see a boom — as long as “variant Echo” or “variant Foxtrot” doesn’t come up and everybody panics.”