New Telegraph

Juxtaposing Europe’s airspace gridlock with Africa’s empty skies

Focus
When it comes to congestion, the focus is on Europe. Airspace and airports are clogged by the rising number of arriving and departing aircraft. Airliners must wait their turn for gates, for ground personnel, for maintenance, and to take off. Not surprisingly, European airline punctuality fell in 2018 for a fifth straight year, sinking to a 10-year low. In 2019, nearly one in four flights arrived late by 15 minutes or more, and delays of greater than an hour jumped 25 per cent.
For African airlines, the opposite is the case. The continent’s airspace and airports are virtually empty due to low air transport penetration occasioned by restrictive or protective policies of many African governments.
It’s high time to address the ‘embarrassingly low’ level of intra-African air connectivity which is depriving the continent and its people of reaching their full potential, an airline body chief has said.

Govt intervention
have been urged to remove the obstacles hindering the industry’s expansion and connectivity, just as they have been called to open aviation markets and allow for more routes and more flights where regulatory impediments were blocking growth.
The poor air connectivity in the continent is a function of many factors such as the huge landmass of Africa, lack of funds to open more routes, huge cost of travel, and above all, the purchasing power of many Africans who live below the poverty line.
Africa makes up 12 per cent of the world’s population but only 2.5 per cent of the world’s passengers. So why is there such a gap?
The continent has 740 airports and more than 420 airlines with an aviation industry that supports around 6.9 million jobs and $80 billion in economic activity.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Africa is set to become one of the fastest-growing aviation regions in the next 20 years with an annual expansion of nearly five per cent.
Europe’s growth volume
In the past decades, aviation within Europe has continued to grow in volume. With the increase in volume, traffic delays increased as a result of bottlenecks that originate from traffic flow design decisions made when European air traffic volumes were a lot smaller and delays were not of major concern.
To ease the strain on the situation a European-wide solution has been developed known as the Single European sky agreement.
The idea of this agreement is to reduce airspace congestion and increase efficiency whilst utilising the available capacity to its fullest.
In truth, Europe is about three times smaller than Africa but has a highly developed air transport system. Africa is approximately 30, 365, 000 sq km while Europe is approximately 10, 180, 000 sq km, making Europe 33.53 per cent the size of Africa.
The air transport network plays an important role in today’s globalized society. The connectivity it generates is a key element for the competitive position of European countries, regions, and cities. It drives consumer and wider economic benefits.
A superior connectivity performance minimizes travel costs for passengers, businesses, and shippers. Aviation facilitates global contacts, mobility, and trade. It stimulates productivity, trade, Research and Development (R&D), and foreign direct investment (FDI).
In addition, the aviation industry is a major industry in its own right, supporting about 12 million jobs and 4.1 per cent of the Gross Domestic (GDP) in Europe.
Europe is in a strong position in terms of connectivity. Since the start of liberalisation of the European air transport market about 25 years ago, consumers have benefitted from connectivity growth within Europe as well as to/from other world regions.
These gains include more directly and indirectly served destinations, higher frequencies, shorter travel times, and lower fares. The connectivity gains have substantially reduced consumers’ costs to get from A to B and induced significant consumer welfare benefits, as well as gains for the wider economy. But there are challenges to deal with if these gains are to continue.
Sufficient capacity both in the air and on the ground and an efficiently organized airspace are key in this respect.
However, the European air transport system is not operating at its optimum level. Flight trajectories are longer than needed.
On average, flights in European airspace are 3 percent longer than the great circle distance between the origin and destination airport.
Airspace inefficiencies and capacity bottlenecks cause delays of around 10 minutes per flight. In contrast to the US, which has just one single Air Navigation Service Provider (ANSP), Europe has 38 ANSPs to handle approximately the same geographical area, resulting in higher than-needed costs of Air Navigation Service Provision for airlines and passengers.
Examples of these costs are higher ANSP user charges and longer-than-needed flight trajectories, with associated fuel burn and environmental burden.
But the much-needed modernization of European airspace is progressing slowly and is lagging behind the targets set. Furthermore, airport capacity is expected to fall short of future demand growth.
The continued congestion of the airspace is a source of worry to the clearing house for airlines. IATA, had few years ago stated that that compiled minutes of delay runs into about 36 years if the situation continues till 2025.
Delayed policy
Just like the bottlenecks faced by Africa to have a unified single African airspace, which has lingered for about 20 years with the slow implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration, Europe seems to be facing a more intriguing decision to have single European airspace.
This has even lingered more than the much talked about Yamoussoukro Decision. That is where the comparison ends. While Europe has gone to develop its air transport sector albeit with some bottlenecks, Africa is still confused on what to do.

Potential
Getting air traffic to and through a country gives a proven boost to trade, tourism, and other economic activity. Countries and cities that have managed to do this have been handsomely rewarded. While Africa’s geography gives it the potential to become a hub for flights from Australia to the Americas, from China to South America, and many other routes, that is no more than a threshold advantage.
Getting airlines to fly to a city rests on issues that Africa still struggles with – not just inadequate infrastructure, but also a scarcity of Africa-based international airlines, poor route management, insecurity, and a failure to generate tourist interest.
Many African nations lack national carriers and some of the international airlines that do exist are loss-makers – South African Airways is one example. People obviously cannot fly to or through a country if there are no airlines to take them there. Furthermore, internal connections between many African cities are poor or non-existent.
There is a regularly talk about the need to develop a ‘United Africa’ to enable air transport to grow to its full potential and the need for enhanced connectivity and cooperation within the continent.
Part of the reason for Africa’s under-served status is that many African countries have continued to restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers. This practice originated in the early 1960s when many newly independent African states created national airlines, in part, to assert their status as nations.

Last line
It has been a long journey with lots of talking but very little action, albeit there has been limited liberalisation in certain regional economic blocs and between certain markets. Now, the industry in Africa appears to better understand the economic benefits of a more liberal regime and move from a general protective stance of state interests. Africa is now the closest it has ever been to allowing it fulfill its aviation potential.

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