Africa’s flight connectivity problems calls for African governments to create direct flight links between and among each other in order to enhance economic development through easy movement of cargo and passengers, Zimbabwe's Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Dr Joram Gumbo, has said.
In an interview, Gumbo said it was disheartening that the continent's airline industry lacked intra-continental flight routes and this negatively impacted economic growth and integration as it becomes costly to transport passengers and goods.
However, despite these challenges, Gumbo said there were tremendous efforts by individual countries, regions and the continent to put in place an effective intra-African air transport policy aimed at connecting Africa’s airways.
“Flight connectivity in Africa is quite a big problem, and it is what the African Union’s African Ministers of Transport’s African Open Skies policy seeks to combat. The African Open Skies policy seeks to open an intra-African air transport to promote continental economic development and integration,” Gumbo said.
He said the lack of direct flights to Africa destinations creates unnecessarily long winding and time consuming flights across the world.
“The lack of direct flights is a huge economic business barrier. Take for example, when business people from Asia want to fly to Harare, they take a long and winding route from Asia to Singapore, from Singapore to Dubai then finally to Ethiopia and then connecting flights to Harare,” Gumbo said.
He said with Zimbabwe currently going under major economic development programmes under the new dispensation, there was also an urgent need for direct flights especially to some of Africa’s major trade partners such as China, Australia and Britain among others.
Gumbo said the connectivity issue was on the Agenda of the AU as evidenced by the launch of a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) during the last day of the 30th AU Summit in Addis Ababa Ethiopia by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the current AU chair.
The initiative is similar to that of developed continents such as Europe where airlines from participating countries can easily fly to airports of neighbouring countries.
The launch of SAATM is also in line with the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision AU Agenda 2063 aimed to connect Africa by air.
SAATM comprises of 23 countries, among them Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivore, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Togo and Zimbabwe.
According to a recent SAAT report, the airline flagship programme recognizes the importance of aviation and its role in African economic development.
“Connecting Africa through aviation and other transport infrastructure is critical to integration, intra-Africa trade, as well as to tourism, economic growth and development more generally. The sector is also an important creator of jobs and critical skills on the continent, the Aviation sector is strategic for the implementation of Agenda 2063” read the report.
Currently SAATM has 21 member states that have signed to cater for more than 70% intra-Africa traffic.
The report indicates that SAATM airlines are faced by many challenges.
“The major challenge faced by airlines in the market include monopoly ground handling and navigation services, inadequate airport infrastructure and high charges are some airports, high fuel prices and other restrictions imposed to restrict competition to airlines,” the report says.
The essential aim of the Yammoussokro Decisions (named after the Cote d Ivoire capital in which it was released) was to open up airspace by allowing the five Freedom of Air under which an airline or air carrier can simply fly into another airspace and land using only simple prior notification and remove the need for separate bilateral air service agreement between individual countries.