COVID-19: Africa uncertain whether to completely reopen aviation market

• As AFRAA laments negative impact of uncoordinated PCR tests on air travels

DESPITE the hardship inflicted on the global aviation sector particularly Africa by the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in the grounding of businesses, African aviation market is gradually opening up.

However,  one of the impacts of the pandemic on the continent is that it has led to the restructuring of the entire industry.

Speaking during an interview with the Chairman, African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA) and the organiser of the 9th African Aviation Summit – Air Finance Africa 2020, Nick Fadugba, monitored online by Nigerian Tribune, the Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Airlines, Mr Cornwell Muleya though declared that it was difficult to say if Africa was moving forward or backwards in global aviation, but added that prior to the outbreak of the pandemic,  the continent was making a lot of progress.

Speaking to Fadugba at the conference which was held virtually, the CEO of the Uganda national carrier declared: “The industry obviously has been grounded for some time, we are seeing a gradual opening of the industry markets but there it’s still confusion as to whether we have to open up completely or whether we are to restrict, then if so, countries also are quite nervous about the number of people coming in and who they issue visas to. So this is what is confusing the industry. So, I believe we have to see a rebirth of the industry which we all need to shape together so that we can get back to what will be the normal situation again.”

In the same vein, the Secretary-General of African Airlines Association (AFRAA), Abderahmane Berthe hinted that the association was pushing for free COVID-19 tests for passengers on African airlines within the continent.

The AFRAA scribe in his interview with Fadugba lamented how what he called the uncoordinated  COVID-19 test and its high costs, ranging from $50 to $150, had grossly taken its toll on air travel within the continent.

According to Abderahmane: “We are pushing for free Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests for passengers and that will bring back more confidence to passengers. You can see today that if you take one PCR test from one country and you are going to another country, they will ask for another test.

“For passengers, it is a really big issue. We really need to come up with solutions for these protocols. Progress is being made because the African Union Commission has organised some meetings between ministries of transport and health and they are also working on the trusted travel project launched 10 days ago and AFRAA is supporting this project.

“The objective is to harmonize across the continent and to come up with mutual recognition of protocols on the continent. So far, 47 states have endorsed this project”.

Citing how liquidity problems have boxed carriers on the continent to a tight corner, the AFRAA scribe appealed to African governments and states and financial institutions to assist the African carriers to survive the financial predicament thrown at them by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While projecting that following the total grounding of airline business for five months at the peak of the pandemic that the region’s airlines may lose $9 billion in 2020 compared to 1919, Abderahmane declared: “We have also made some survey on the apron with United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNICA) on the indebtedness of our members in 2020 and 2025. We had 60 airlines which responded to us and the indebtedness was quantified at $3.2 billion for 2020 and 2021.

“We also are urging governments to support the private airlines because we are seeing that the support for airlines so far is going to state-owned airlines. This is very critical because even if we are seeing a re-start, the condition for restart is very difficult because airlines are operating with very low load factors and also, they are reducing the ticket fares to attract passengers.

“Having a low load factor and reduced revenue per passengers, it means that the flight is economically not sustainable. We can see up today, we have only 21 per cent of destinations that have re-opened if we compare it to February”.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, he noted, AFRAA had been very active, stressing that at the beginning in March, they launched an appeal to African governments to support the airlines.

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