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Algiers conference was devoid of objectivity!

Discussion in 'Biashara, Uchumi na Ujasiriamali' started by ByaseL, May 14, 2010.

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    ByaseL JF-Expert Member

    May 14, 2010
    Joined: Nov 22, 2007
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    Sometime during the week ending 28th March 2010, Algiers hosted the 19th Annual African Aviation Conference and Exhibition. There was a lot of European airlines bashing at this conference which, in my view, went over the top. Speaker after speaker lashed out at the way the European Union (EU) is mistreating African airlines especially those flying directly into EU countries. Participants were incensed by EU’s “deliberate” moves to exclude African Airlines from its lucrative markets by imposing strict safety benchmarks such as carbon dioxide emissions standards which naturally throw out most of the aircraft used by African airlines. At the same time EU Airlines are busy “scavenging” African markets and repatriating about $4 billion from the region per year!

    The Secretary General of African Airlines Association (AFRAA), Nick Fadugba went further to call EU action of introducing emission curbs as politically motivated and illegal because this kind of action can only be taken by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and not the EU. In essence Emissions Trading Scheme penalizes airlines with aircraft whose emission exceeds the maximum European Standards, as a way to discourage African airlines. Fadugba argues that EU has no right to introduce such tax expect ICAO. It is for this reason that the American Air Transport Association (ATA) has gone to a London Court to contest EU’s unilateral action. However, in this war of words African Governments are not blameless, the conference observed. African Governments do not speak or act in unison when it comes to dealing with EU as far as aviation matters are concerned.

    Firstly, they negotiate Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) individually instead of coming together as a block to have a clout that can match their EU counterparts at the bargaining table thus end up being on the receiving end.

    Secondly, in most cases African countries work at cross purposes in the course of trying to out do each other and even fall over each other in a bid to attract foreign airlines to their capitals. In this regard Nigeria was cited as a bad example, which designates foreign carriers to various major airports in the country, thereby stifling the growth of local carriers, which are now finding it extremely difficult to operate due to the cash crunch.

    This prompted the Algeria’s Minister of Transport Mr Amar Tou to issue a clarion calling to African airlines to cooperate among themselves so that they could “through united effort, stop the exploitation of the European carriers on the continent, which largely invest nothing in return” said the Minister.

    Let us pause for a moment and internalize what transpired at this aviation conference and exhibition in Algiers.

    For starters, was this litany of accusations against EU totally justified or was this conference one of the stereo type kind of African gatherings where it has become a norm to push blames to the Western world for almost everything including some problems which are of our own making? Take for example, the issue of noise emission and aircraft pollution. It is a general consensus that aged aircraft are a real menace when it comes to noise disturbance and air pollution especially in Europe because airports are proximal to residential areas. In fact environmental concerns have become a politically charged issue in developed countries such that if not handled properly could easily become a political hot potato.

    If African countries including Tanzania have put restriction on importation of dated automobiles how about aged aircraft? In Tanzania, for example, there is a surcharge for importing a vehicle more than 10 years old. This is to discourage bringing into the country old vehicles which are considered to be inimical to the environment. If this can happen in the automobile industry how about in the ultra sensitive aviation industry? The imposition of emissions tax on old aircraft by EU should, in my view, be seen in that context and nothing to do with ulterior motives by EU just to cook the goose for African airlines.

    Secondly, it is time for Africans to look into our own backyards to see how we have ended with dilapidated aircraft while in other regions like Asia and South America have kept pace with aircraft technological development. It is quite obvious that most of the airlines have been badly managed if not manipulated by the governments save for a few like Ethiopian Airways, Kenya Airways and Egypt Air. Broke airlines cannot manage to buy modern aircraft to keep pace with changing regulatory and safety requirements because they neither have cash nor credible balance sheets to attract debt finance. As a result most African airlines lag behind in fleet renewal programmes and get caught up with various restrictions a la EU only to end up crying wolf like the noises we have heard coming out of Algiers!

    It is quite ludicrous to hear such lamentations on Nigerian airlines. Nigeria is one of the leading oil producing countries in the OPEC group with a potentially robust economy and boasting of the biggest population in Africa. Ideally its domestic aviation market is big enough to sustain a vibrant local airline industry but where? Nigeria Airways was a typical case of mismanagement, ineptitude and malfeasance all rolled up in one. The national airline went six feet under with a mountain of debts and other airlines which came to fill the void can be described as also-runs at most. In this case the Nigerian aviation predicament is purely self inflicted and has nothing to with foreign airlines domination. This being the case we cannot begrudge the likes of KLM, British Airways, et al, by labeling them as parasitic conduits of siphoning Africa’s foreign reserves in billions per year.

    Were the Aviation Conference participants in Algiers oblivious of the fact in business you don’t get what you think you deserve but what you negotiate for? All Airlines worldwide operate under a quid pro quo mechanism of BASAs which are negotiated across the table. Surely, it would be disingenuous on the part of Africans to turn around and put the blame on western countries for getting a raw deal after signing on the dotted lines of the BASAs with their eyes wide open! Instead of pointing fingers at foreign airlines, the conference should have gone deeper to find the real causes of our weaknesses which tend to favour foreign airlines viz-a -viz local ones.

    In this regard it would not be far fetched to point out that our actual problems as far as BASAs are concerned is lack of expertise in BASAs negotiations. This malaise is prevalent in many African establishments and aviation is no exception. Let us be realistic and objective. African aviation malaise is more to do with inherent and systematic problems and less to do with foreign interference and manipulations. It is time for African aviation to stand up instead of just squatting and point fingers at competitors for having been edged out the aviation cake.

    Byase Luteke