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Policy issues, low traffic regime cause of poor investments in African airports—ACI Scribe

The Secretary General of Airports Council International (ACI) Africa, Mr. Ali Tounsi has opened up on the factors frustrating deep pocket private sector investments on African airports.

In an interview, he said “African airports compared to others in the world are not the best, frankly, but it depends on the region and the airport. South African airports are doing well; their standards are high. Johannesburg, for instance, handles more than 20 million passengers annually, which is one of the busiest in the world; so are some airports in North Africa”.

The ACI chief scribe noted that “Inside Africa, there are a lot of small airports and a lot of them are not efficient; no money; no investment and high quality of service because all these come with traffic. But you should know that running an airport is very expensive; buildings and maintenance require a lot of money and these are achieved through taxes and fees. So, if there is no traffic, there will be less revenue, which is why most of the small airports are not making enough money. These have impact on the quality of service.

He said “In Africa, we are facing a lot of challenges such as low traffic to bring in money to develop the airports. But we are hoping that now, with the open skies through the Single African Air Travel Market, there will be more traffic and the business of airports will improve. So, we are hoping that it will bring in a lot of value for our business.

On the trending fears of some airlines opposed to the implementation of the SAATM due to feeling of inability to compete, Tounsi argued that “We learn from other people’s experience. When they started the open skies and deregulation in the United States of America, some airlines stopped operating because they were losing money due to their inability to compete but other airlines gained a lot by offering a lot of services”.

“So, like every business, if you are not strong enough, you cannot remain in the business except you change your operating system or business model to remain competitive or you apply some new regulations to your operations. And instead of being scared to implement SAATM, airlines should change their business models, change the mindset, change the management and be more proactive and reactive; reduce the money they spend on certain things and generally look for solutions.

Explaining more, the ACI official averred that “If we continue like this, we will remain where we are. We should know that any positive change will have some victims and some winners. I know that it will happen but we cannot keep protecting them, we have to move on like the rest of the world; we should be fair. It is a new regulation; they should follow it or get out of the system”.