- Seven Southern African countries have signed for SAATM
- Interpretation of SAATM and YD must be simplified
- Region has room for another mega airport
- Calls for more investment in airports infrastructure development
In aviation terms Aaron Munetsi is an African legend. A thought leader who has been the captain in command of many entities across the continent. Chat Ndege had the pleasure to have a one on one with Aaron Munetsi on the state of aviation in the Southern African region.
As the Chief Executive Officer of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA), Aaron and the AASA team are tasked to represent member airlines on all aviation matters. In this edition of the Cockpit Talk, Aaron shades more light on the Southern African aviation environment.
CN – Chat Ndege and AM – Aaron Munetsi
CN | In your own words, how would you describe the current state of aviation in Southern Africa?
AM | Aviation in Southern Africa is very dynamic and most of our airlines have demonstrated their resilience by not only going through the disruptions of the COVID19 pandemic, but by emerging stronger and much more agile. Our regulatory environment is well structured and aims to provide the aviation industry with the required enabling environment. Most of our governments have embraced the spirit of cooperation as espoused by the Single Africa Air Transport Market whose ultimate objective is enhancing intra-African connectivity.
CN | How does the Airlines Association of Southern Africa support airlines in the region?
AM | Our mandate is very clear in that the Airlines Association of Southern Africa plays a critical role in representing the interests of our member airlines at all levels of the regulatory environment. We are the custodians of the interaction on behalf of our airlines and the regulators for all matters concerning aviation. We ensure that the airlines’ voice is heard and their suggestions and or concerns are addressed satisfactorily. We advocate for the interests of our member airlines by creating and enhancing relationships with the relevant stakeholders.
CN | The AASA AGA held in Luanda, Angola. What were the key takeaways?
AM | The theme of our AASA 53rd Annual General Assembly held in Luanda, Angola in 2023 was “Possibilities from Reality”. This was a call for all the industry stakeholders to focus on making sure that the industry makes significant strides towards achieving our mutual objectives which include but are not limited to Cost Containment, Increased Connectivity, Harmonised Regulations, Implementation of the Single Africa Air Transport Market, collaboration by the governments in enabling the Free Movement of People protocol of the AU’s Agenda 2063. Indeed there was a call for our airline members to collaborate on more fronts even though they remained competitors.
CN | When have seen airlines entering business rescue in the past four years. How has that impacted the aviation landscape in the region?
AM | Business is a risky endeavour and the same applies to airlines. We are never far from the risk of external factors and global geopolitical developments over and above climate challenges. As such, some of the airlines went into business rescue in order to give themselves much needed time and space to reset and come back in a much better state that would enable them to compete effectively. Unfortunately some of our airlines did not make it out of the pandemic or business rescue. The aviation industry in our region has emerged more agile and committed to make sure that in the event of black swan events such as the pandemic, they have the capacity and wherewithal to survive and remain on course to execute their business plans and strategies.
CH | Aviation requires massive investment and support from stakeholders. A number of airlines had added to their fleet in the region and both Zambia and Zimbabwe continue to invest heavily in their aviation infrastructure. What is the general impact of such investments in the region?
AM | Infrastructure remains a critical element to the aviation industry so much that we are dependant on the services of such entities to enable us to achieve our objectives. We are therefore encouraged with the developments that we have observed across the SADC region. We encourage our stakeholders in the infrastructure provision space to continue to upgrade and or maintain their facilities because that is how we are able to provide a combined seamless travel experience.
“there are areas where interpretation of the SAATM and or YD requisites still need to be clarified so that there is uniform application across the region” Aaron Munetsi, CEO AASA.
CH | In the past 12 months, there has been an increase in the opening of new routes in Southern Africa, especially between South Africa and Zimbabwe. How do these routes or new airlines benefit these two countries?
AM | As mentioned earlier, the Airlines Association of Southern Africa is part of the industry body that is advocating for and ensuring the implementation of the Single Africa Air Transport Market in conjunction with the African Civil Aviation Authority. The main objectives include improving connectivity in the African aviation sector by enhancing the granting and operationalisation of traffic rights such as 5th Freedom rights to African airlines. The increase in frequencies and capacities between existing city pairs is welcomed. We are also encouraging our airlines to commence operating on previously unserved city pairs by introducing new destinations into their networks. Such developments enhance accessibility to the countries involved and this brings significant benefits such as trade, investment, and tourism.
CN | Language barrier is an incumbrance in the movement of people. How has AASA been resolving this issue to have more SADC countries flying to/from Angola, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo?
AM | Ordinarily one would think that language differences hinder movement of people, but it is no longer the case. Africans are naturally very resilient and we have always been inclined to get together irrespective of the language differences. Even in the early days when the distances travelled were far and means of transport was limited, we always found a way of getting together and forming relationships. With modern day technology and the diaspora effect, we are able to meet and form relationships much faster. And indeed, the diaspora effect positively enables us to integrate at all levels from school to professional and this enhances our ability to communicate across language and cultural barriers.
CN | SAATM remains a big topic with enormous benefits? How many countries in Southern Africa has signed up for it and are implementing it?
AM | Seven countries have signed up for SAATM and they are all implementing the protocols. In fact, some of the countries that are yet to sign up for SAATM are in some ways implementing the protocols, especially the YD recommendation for granting 5th Freedom traffic rights. The only challenge is that there are areas where interpretation of the SAATM and or YD requisites still need to be clarified so that there is uniform application across the region.
CN | Which intra-Africa routes that are not served would you like to see being operated connecting SADC states to West, Central, East and North Africa?
AM | When we advocate for increased intra-African connectivity we take into cognisance the fact that no country or Regional Economic Community for that matter, can stand alone. Connectivity entails that all the city pairs possible can be served in different permutations starting from the very basic point to point and extending all the way to multi-stop interlining and transit cross region travel. People travel for different reasons and as such their travel itineraries must be adapted to meet their requirements. Overall, the industry is in unequivocal agreement that there should be no restrictions on the route networks that airlines choose to operate.
CN | Do you see airlines in Southern Africa entering joint ventures amongst themselves?
AM | Collaboration is a critical success factor in the airline industry. Airlines have recognised this for a long time hence the existence of facilities such as interline and joint venture agreements. Such agreements have been extended to become code-share and even mergers and acquisitions. The important consideration is that like minded airlines will find each other and they will develop mutually beneficial ways to cooperate and collaborate be it through alliances or joint ventures.
CN | Are airlines in Southern Africa collaborating?
AM | Our airlines have a history of collaboration that spans decades. The form of collaboration varies from simple commercial agreements to some technical as well as operational formats.
CN | ORTIA is a mega hub in the region. Is there room for another regional airport outside South Africa to become a regional hub?
AM | There is always an opportunity for airports to revise and re-organise their operating models so that they can grow their footfall. That means there are opportunities for other airports to establish themselves as hubs for specific target market segments.
CN | As AASA how do you support the regional compliance of ICAO safety and security standards?
AM | We participate in all the ICAO platforms and we ensure that our member airlines are kept well informed of all the ICAO developments that are pertinent to their operations. Our advocacy roll entails that we liaise with the regulators to enable conformance and compatibility for our airline members.
CN | Where do you see aviation in Southern Africa in the next 5 years?
AM | The next five years are going to be very intense in that not only are we recovering and realigning to our pre Covid objectives, we are resetting and ensuring that we are agile and nimble to the effect that we are able to collectively exceed our expectations for the growth of our industry. The aviation industry will continue to contribute to the economic development in our region and we will gain more recognition from the governments as a critical industry that needs support to enable us to achieve the highest safety levels and remain sustainable both financially and environmentally.
Images | AASA