|The African Aviation Industry Group (AAIG) held its annual Aeropolitical Forum on 18 November 2021 in virtual format following the conclusion of the AFRAA 53rd Annual General Assembly. Staged under the theme, “African Aviation Restart and Recovery,” industry stakeholders at the forum deliberated on the industry priorities and agreed on the set of actions for implementation during the year 2022 and beyond.
The main focus areas of discussion were on a risk-based approach for reopening of borders, restart and recovery, attaining viability of the African air transport industry and other aeropolitical developments. The Forum articulated a number of recommendations that the AAIG shall take on-board in its 2022 Plan of activities for action.
The Forum was attended by over 150 participants comprising representatives of African aviation institutions including African Union (AU) and African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), Development agencies including African Development Bank (AFDB), African airlines, civil aviation authorities, airport operators, airline associations, government entities, aircraft manufacturers and aviation solutions and service providers.
Key Highlights, Takeaways and Recommendations
1. Safe reopening of borders
The AAIG called for collaboration and alignment of all stakeholders of the aviation ecosystem in Africa, i.e. governments, airlines, airports, tourism bodies and other agencies for the restart and recovery of the air transport industry in the following areas for the safe reopening of borders:
i. Lifting of prohibitive travel restrictions
To ensure that aviation continues to provide the economic and social benefits it does to economies, it is crucial that all stakeholders work together across the industry and hand-in-hand with the African Union, WHO, ICAO and other international organizations to ensure a coordinated risk-based reopening of borders for recovery of air travel. The AAIG further advocated for consistency and non-discriminatory practices through the lifting of prohibitive travel restrictions, such as cumbersome quarantines, restrictions on WHO-approved vaccines and confusing or punitive testing protocols for air travelers.
ii. Harmonization of border entry health screening protocols
The AAIG recommended African states commit to harmonize the health screening protocols and entry requirements for international travel. The stakeholders also agreed on the need to harmonize digital platforms for traveler health credentials and border entry requirements, to manage certifications for COVID-19 tests and/or vaccination, and to share their information directly with governments and airlines.
The AAIG further called for the reduction of testing costs, including encouraging the use of alternative approved rapid testing protocols.
iii. Digitization and data-driven approach for health protocols
The AAIG urged African governments to embrace the use of digital technology and a data-driven approach to facilitate a safe reopening of international travel. Taking into consideration different national public health policies and risk tolerances, stakeholders agreed that policy makers should design air passenger screening protocols utilizing scientific research and data on testing, virus transmission, and virus prevalence among traveling populations. Digital platforms for storing and sharing health credentials should be interoperable to avoid multiple systems and confusion for the passengers, and public health authorities should strive for mutual recognition of testing and vaccination certifications. This activity should be undertaken in a manner that ensures the security and privacy of health data.
iv. Vaccination roll-out
A robust vaccination campaign will promote herd immunity of the level of vaccinated African citizens. The target by Africa CDC is to attain 60% of full vaccinated African citizens by end of 2022. The AAIG emphasized that a rapid roll out of vaccines across the continent will facilitate the restart of economies and air transport. Until this majority is attained, AAIG urged African States and other regions of the world not to discriminate against African passengers on the basis of vaccination status and not to mandate vaccination as a pre-condition for international travel. AAIG also supports testing protocols which are universal, accessible and affordable to all passengers on the continent as an alternative to vaccination, including the use of rapid testing protocols approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).
2. Financial support to the travel sector
The financial health of the travel sector is critical not just for the airline industry but for the wider aviation ecosystem and economies at large due to its significant socio-economic contribution. The AAIG members urged African states to provide targeted and direct financial support to the entire aviation ecosystem to ensure that the multiplier effects of air travel can positively impact the social and economic welfare of the entire population of Africa.
3. Economic Viability and Sustainability of the air transport sector in Africa
i. Liberalization of African skies
Liberalization of the air transport market and the enhancement of intra-African air connectivity are vital to the recovery and sustainability of African economies. The AAIG agreed to introduce an African version of the ICAO Air Services Negotiation Event (termed the AFCAN). To proceed with this initiative, it was recommended that the engagement of the 35 Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) states be categorized according to the Continental SAATM Benefits study which analyzed the holistic readiness of states to implement SAATM and identifies 13 of the 35 States that are ready. The AAIG agreed to take this recommendation on-board and work with AFCAC and states on the modalities of successfully running such an event.
ii. All-inclusive Laboratory approach for the transformation of the air transport sector in Africa
Building on the recommendations of Airline and state participants at the 2019 AAIG Forum in Mauritius recognising the interrelatedness of the SAATM and the African Continent Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and their role in the development of intra-Africa traffic and trade to support the overall growth of the air transport market, the AAIG supported an all-inclusive Laboratory approach for the transformation of the air transport sector in Africa. The Laboratory approach will seek out-of-the-box solutions from all relevant stakeholders needed to ensure that African economies the aviation sector achieve survival in the short-term and sustainability in the long-term.
The Laboratory, which will be staged in Q1 2022 under the umbrella of AAIG, will bring together travel ecosystem stakeholders including: AFCAC, AfCFTA, AFRAA, AASA, IATA ACI-Africa, CANSO-Africa, AfDB, BOAD, AFREXIM Bank, AFB, AUC, UNECA, UNWTO-Africa, ICAO-Africa, RECs, selected CAAs, airlines, airports, ANSPs and ground handling service providers.
iii. Environmental sustainability
Noting the increasing importance of environmental sustainability as an industry priority, the AAIG agreed to put in place a plan for Africa to achieve CORSIA and Net Zero emissions goals by 2050.
iv. Multisectoral engagement of stakeholders
To enhance advocacy efforts, the AAIG agreed on the need for multisectoral engagements, ensuring that Stakeholders from other interrelated sectors are included in future meetings and events.