Airport infrastructure in Africa needs to play “catch-up” and the time for action is now
Ahead of AviaDev 2018, we caught up with Alexander Herring, Managing Director of ADB Safegate South Africa.
JH: You have been working in the African market for some time now As we move into 2018, how optimistic are you about the prospects for African aviation?
AH: Africa is full of challenges and potentials. I’ve been involved in the airport and aviation industry in Africa for close to 20 years now and witnessed the progress in modernisation and expansion of the airport industry in Africa.
Growing affluence across Africa has definitely generated greater demand for air travel. By 2034, eight of the ten fastest growing aviation markets will be in Africa, while nearly 300 million passengers will travel to and from African destinations. Much of this growth is anticipated in routes within the African continent.
The world’s population has doubled since 1970. The World population today is one-third middle class and expected to be close to double this by 2033. Last year ,one quarter of the people in emerging markets travelled by air….it will be nearly three quarters by 2034. This counts even more since Africa has large future potentials considering that 41% of its current population is below 15 years old versus 26% for world’s population. Considering present African airport infrastructure, millions of passengers will not be able to fly in 2035, thus a large percentage of passengers global air traffic demands. Capacity shortage of up to 50% is expected in 50% of all regions if there is no improvement.
Africa is home to 15% of the world’s population, but it accounts for less than 3% of the global air traffic. However African airports are very important for many international airlines due to their high profit and stable passenger growth.
The aviation industry is key for African economy and growth. The aviation industry simplifies greater global travel, economic links and trade. It is a key factor in linking a country to the global economy. It provides greater opportunities for travel and tourism. It connects firms to larger potential sales markets, to more competent supply chains and to greater investment opportunities. It helps to mend productivity levels, for the benefit of the national economy.
Countries must address infrastructural, safety and personnel bottleneck that limit the capacity of airports to handle large volume of cargo and passengers.
Airports should adopt efficient technologies to ease backlog of passengers and cargo. The aviation sector in Africa has a promising future if governments upgrade airport facilities to lure major airlines and accommodate large aircrafts, but also to consider the importance of regional airports.
JH: What are your biggest challenges on the continent at present?
AH: The air transport industry is a very fragile source of economic growth in Africa that requires a collective awareness and willingness to break up the barriers of protectionism and the liberalization of intra-African airspace. Also, the investment in human resources, the improvement of infrastructure and equipment and the adaptation of national regulations with international standards are the pillars of a sustainable aviation industry in Africa.
Major airport improvements have been achieved in Africa, but often airport infrastructure is aged, the size impropriated, technology not updated and safety and security is deficient. The upgrading of the continent’s airports remains mostly in the responsibility of respective governments. Many airports were built in the 1960s and 1970s and are in dire need of extreme makeovers. But they need to be run as business units like in the private sector.
Airports often used to be characterized as natural monopolies, but today airports are facing increasing competition from each other. In some regions, airport hubs are been developed in only about one hour flight time from each other, specifically in East Africa with larger hubs such as Nairobi, Dar-es-Salaam, Entebbe and Addis Ababa airports.
Airports are going to compete for attracting airlines, but also to attract business actors in airport business parks or airport cities, as well as investors or financing institutions.
Funding is a major issue in Africa. The traditional concessional financing is still en vogue, but the privatisation tendency should be increased leading to private-public partnerships. Of course, it requires the political will to do so.
For improved safety and security, airports need to reduce runway incursions which are a challenge for various airports. The implementation of new airport technology is required in the air and on the ground to improve runways, taxiways and other parts of the airport to enhance safety in aircraft movement and operations.
Despite the challenge of poor funding holding back African airports in terms of meeting the technology needs of the airports, it is still vital that African airports learn of such efficient technologies as there is no substitute to safety.
The main objectives of the airport activities are the same as ever: safety and security, efficiency, economic vitality and environmental responsibility.
It is important that the airport management have a clear focus on the needs to serve their markets in the most effective, efficient and safe manner in the interest of all of their stakeholders including airlines and the local industry. And it needs to be done now, as it takes 5 to 20 years to modernise and adapt airport infrastructure in order to absorb the increase of traffic flow.
JH: In your view, what are the most exciting airport projects currently on the continent?
AH: There is a growing realization within the sector that the aviation industry will play a key role in helping Africa “rise”. Airport hubs like Johannesburg, Casablanca, Addis Ababa, Accra, Nairobi, Abuja and even Kigali have become windows to the continent.
The catch-up game that the African aviation sector has to play also needs to be done on the ground. As of last year, it was reported that there were 40 new airports project on the continent. This is nearly one project per country. Governments across the continent are beginning to realize that years of neglect are also hampering growth in the sector.
Ethiopia is about to break ground on a new mega-airport just outside of Addis Ababa. When it is finished, it will be the size of London Heathrow. It is an impressive move which might just make Ethiopia the aviation capital of Africa. It is no secret that the land-locked Ethiopia has big plans to turn itself into Africa’s chief aviation hub.
JH: What are the most exciting ADB Safegate innovations that we should be looking out for in 2018?
AH: We are looking forward to some interesting new solutions around our Airfield, Gate & Tower offering. New LED airfield lights, new functionalities with regards to our apron management solutions including our newest operator panel and an extended OneControl- our Integrated Controller Working Position for the ATC operations allowing for a far greater integration of key tower solutions into our one screen concept. Definitely interesting times for technologies and solutions ahead of us.