Africa: breeding uniformity out of diversity

posted on 5th June 2018

There is nothing homogenous about Africa. It is a tapestry of a continent where diversity rules and the natural, political and social landscape is never boring. And yet this continent has to develop uniform practices across its international industries, especially aviation – a challenge for any continent and for any industry. Jo Murray reports

The Arab Spring, famine and war have bought Africa into our living rooms night after night. Perhaps less publicised are the opening up of industry, the exploration of minerals and the economic potential of this vast continent that are now being realised.

While it is impossible to generalise about a whole continent, there are some indisputable figures that present Africa as “a continent to watch” for economic growth. According to the World Trade Organisation, Africa had the fastest average rate of GDP growth of any region over the last five years – a staggering 4.7 between 2005 and 2010. While Africa reported favourable figures, Europe could only come up with 1.9 (the EU 1.8) in 2010 with the US only coming in at 2.8 – that truly puts things into perspective.

Moreover, regions that export significant quantities of natural resources (Africa, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Middle East and South America) all experienced relatively low export volume growth in 2010, but very strong increases in the dollar value of their exports. For example, Africa’s exports were up 6% in volume terms, and 28% in dollar terms. This puts the continent in a position of economic power like never before.

Although we are all told to watch the BRIC countries and Asia generally for economic growth and fresh market opportunities in the coming years, The Economist has point out that, over the last 10 years, six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa. On IMF forecasts, Africa will grab seven of the top 10 places for GDP growth over the next five years. Over the last decade, the unweighted average of countries’ growth rates was virtually identical in Africa and Asia. Moreover, over the next five years, Africa is likely to take the lead and the average African economy will outpace its Asian counterpart.

According to the IMF, the seven African economies to watch are: Ethiopia (GDP forecast 8.1), Mozambique (GDP forecast 7.7), Tanzania (GDP forecast 7.2), Congo (GDP forecast 7), Ghana (GDP forecast 7), Zambia (GDP forecast 6.9) and Nigeria (GDP forecast 6.8). Of course that is not to say that, in some respects, Africa is not playing catch-up. We know that infrastructure and regulation have a long way to go – as does political stability in many corners of the continent – but this is a continent with strong prospects too.

We are already seeing some of this filter through to the aviation industry. For example, earlier this year came the announcement that sweeping changes are underway at Zambia’s international airports. Zambia’s National Airports Corporation Ltd (NACL) is embarking with SITA on a major transformation of check-in facilities at Lusaka and Livingstone International Airports. A key goal of this five-year agreement is to reduce pressure on existing infrastructure at both airports through greater automation of the check-in process and the introduction of passenger self-service check-in on the SITA AirportConnect Open platform. This will also allow for the common-use of all check-in facilities by all airlines based at the two airports.

Passengers and airlines at Lusaka International Airport will benefit from the deployment of the new CUTE (Common Use Terminal Equipment) services at check-in counters and will also be able to use a range of CUSS (Common Use Self-Service) check-in kiosks, including the compact S3 free-standing kiosk. The upgrades happening at Livingstone International Airport will cover both check-in counters and CUSS check-in kiosks. Automation at both locations will also extend to boarding gates, arrivals and lost baggage and other areas.

Robinson Misitala, Managing Director, NACL, says: “Trade, tourism and inward investment are critical to the economic development of Zambia and easy access to the country through its international gateways is a high priority. We are satisfied to introduce these major changes in collaboration with SITA as they will encourage airlines to fly here and give a major boost to passenger traffic.”

Mali is also seeing the renewal of passenger and bag handling equipment at its airports. In an announcement for the second order in Africa for ALSTEF, the company said that it obtained its first contract at the Bamako-Senou International Airport, providing for the renovation of the existing terminal, all baggage conveying equipment required (including 11 check-in desks and all conveyors for baggage screening at departures, as well as a new arrivals carousel). This system will be operational in the summer of 2012, for the opening of the new terminal, and it will be one of the most secure systems in sub-Saharan Africa, says the company.

On the airline front, this Summer we saw the national flag carrier of Angola, TAAG Angola Airlines (Linhas Aéreas de Angola) purchase 777-300ER aircraft with GE90 engines assisted by an approximately $256 million long-term loan guarantee from the Export-Import Bank of the US (Ex-Im Bank). The aircraft will be used to expand TAAG’s intercontinental service provided through its all-Boeing fleet.

“This is a proud day for Angola and its people,” says TAAG Chairman, Antonio Luis Pimentel Araujo. “Taking possession of this airplane and being the first in all of Africa to buy, own and operate the airplane further confirms TAAG’s commitment to leadership and innovation in Africa n aviation.” The delivery was the first of two airplanes ordered by TAAG in October 2009. TAAG will use the airplanes for route expansion to destinations including direct routes to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Lisbon and Oporto. The airline is also preparing its application to fly into the US with its new 777-300ERs.

And routes into Africa are finding favour too. For example, Etihad Airways has announced the start of flights to Nairobi, its first destination in East Africa. A daily service from Abu Dhabi to Nairobi will begin on April 1 next year, operated by a two-class A320 aircraft with 16 Pearl Business class and 120 Coral Economy seats. “This new route will allow Etihad to tap into large traffic flows between East Africa, North Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent,” the airline‘s Chief Executive Officer, James Hogan, says. “Our strategy is to target areas of strong growth in emerging economies such as North, East and Central Africa and we have a number of other destinations under active consideration.”

The Managing Director of the Kenya Airports Authority, Stephen Gichuki, says: “Our airport is currently undergoing an expansion and upgrading of its facilities which includes the construction of a new terminal. This will have the capacity to handle 20 million passengers, and construction is expected to begin in January 2012.” Etihad began dedicated cargo services to Nairobi in March, 2009 and now operates five freighter flights with a total capacity of 340 tonnes each week. This will increase by 5% from April 1.

Investment in aircraft and routes is not all that is being reported. On the ground handling front, Aviance Ghana has continued to invest in new GSE for the Accra Kotoka International Airport (ACC), Ghana, operation, points out Paul Craig, Managing Director, Aviance Ghana. “In the last year we have added United Airlines, Egyptair, Virgin Atlantic Airways and TAP to our customer portfolio,” he says. “Despite the turmoil in other parts of the globe, Ghana continues to perform steadily and with the recent oil exploration gearing up, new airlines and investors are keeping a watchful eye on the West African jewel.

“Ghana is working hard to establish itself as the gateway to West Africa and carriers such as Iberia, Spanair, and Fly 540 are all rumoured to be looking to begin operations. As part of the airport master plan, a new aircraft parking area, Southern Stands, is being constructed and will provide linear parking for up to seven wide-body aircraft.  To help with servicing this area, Aviance Ghana has placed an order with Goldhofer, for the first AST2R towbarless tractor in Africa.  Currently on trial is the new Infoman from Zebra Technologies.”

New purchases at Aviance Ghana include: Covered passenger steps (from Denge), an ambulift (from Mallaghan), a towbarless tractor (from Goldhofer), passenger buses (from Cobus), a specialised reach forklift (from Linde), forklifts (from Linde/Nissan) and ground power units (from Hitzinger).

Menzies has been busy making news in South Africa. Velvet Sky, South Africa’s newest domestic carrier, took to the skies on its inaugural flight from Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport to Durban King Shaka International Airport.  Menzies was appointed handling agent and all went off without a hitch. Forsyth Black, Senior Vice President Africa, Menzies Aviation, says: “Menzies was appointed on a range of factors, but not least our safety, security, quality and market independence.” Within the coming weeks Velvet Sky expects to expand from one to three aircraft and run over 60 flights per week around the Johannesburg/Cape Town/Durban golden triangle.”

Menzies Aviation in South Africa has also announced the opening of its new combined baggage services office and passenger services staff facility at Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport. “The Passenger Services staff have a new locker room, small changing area and a bar-style restroom also.  Finally there is a briefing room/meeting for staff and customer pre-flight briefings and training sessions,” says Black.

Finally at Menzies, the handler has opened the new Mashonzha Lounge at Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport.  This is in addition to the highly acclaimed and successful Shongololo Lounge at the same location which has been operational now for three years.

Ghassist in Angola has also been celebrating good news. Marketing Manager, Diogo Pontes, says, the 14 year old company that serves 17 airline clients regularly has now won three new clients. They are Iberia, Air Marroc and KLM. On the equipment front, Ghassist has been on an acquisition spree and now has two ground power units “Hobart 140 KVA”, four conveyor belts, one tractor and four vehicles, and one ambulift. The company says that, at present, it is preparing to offer flight operation services. Staff have been trained for providing safe and efficient push back services; and training has also been delivered in relation to load control, check-in and ramp operations. Ghassist is also operating at three news stations, namely: Ondjiva, Cabinda and Lubango. They are domestic airports at present but at least two of them will become international airports, reports Ghassist. And let’s not forget that Luanda International Airport has been rebuilt – a very important base for Ghassist’s activities.

Over at Entebbe Handling Services (ENHAS) in Uganda, the handler is benefiting from the increase in flight frequencies. Madrine Arishaba, Training & Development Officer at ENHAS, says that, for example, Emirates has increased its flights from five times to seven times a week; British Airways from three times to five times; and KLM from three to six times. “Qatar Airways has also come on board and will start its operations on November 2, 2011 with A319 and A320 aircraft on a daily basis,” she says. “With the increasing client base, we have had to invest in more equipment to be able to satisfy their increasing needs. In view of that, we have purchased another high loader Commander 30.”

For training purposes, ENHAS has set up one computerised training room with 10 computers to assist especially with learning departure control systems and also be able to train other clients when needed. ENHAS is also a member of the UN Global Compact, an initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations to the 10 universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.

Finally, the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company Plc (nahco aviance) held its 30th Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the Conference Hall of the Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja, in June 2011 with an appreciable turnout of shareholders who came to witness the performance of the company in 2010. Welcoming shareholders to the meeting, the Chairman, Board of Directors, Senator Ike Nwachukwu thanked them for staying with the company through thick and thin, and promised that the company would always strive to give good returns on their investments. The meeting approved the payment of final dividend of 45kobo per share to all shareholders of the company. The meeting was also used to introduce two new Directors of the company, D Umar Faruk (Non-Executive Director) and Gordon Gofwan (Executive Director) in charge of business development, to the shareholders.

Managing Director Kayode Ojo has also presented a paper to the monthly Capital Market Correspondents Association of Nigeria (CAMCAN) Forum. He says that private firms should be encouraged to go into Public Private Partnership (PPP) with government to solve infrastructural challenges facing the industry. He advised airlines to benchmark on economy of scale and global reach through mergers; and more importantly, corporate governance should be a cardinal objective. He also listed the problems facing the industry as: the high cost of fuel, infrastructure, presence of unauthorised people at the airside, indiscriminate seizure of equipment and the high cost of procuring ground support equipment.

Despite the challenges, there is plenty to play for in the African market. Airlines are waking up to the giant trading potential of this richly endowed land mass. The wise ones are planning their routes in and the service providers who have prepared themselves to the highest standards will be amongst the winners.