Experts in the Aviation Industry in Africa gathered recently in Lagos for the Airports Council International (ACI) Africa Conference and Exhibition, an annual event held in Nigeria for the first time. Among other things, stakeholders on the continent harped on the sustainability of Air Traffic via infrastructure development, especially airports. The contribution of ACI to the development of the sector in African states was also x-rayed. Pearl Ngwama reports.
It was a gathering of the ‘who is who’ at the just concluded 59th Airports Council International (ACI) – Africa Conference and Exhibition held at the Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.
The Conference with the theme “Business Transformation for Sustainable Development of African Airports” sought ways to achieve a unique goal of transforming African airports into viable, sustainable business entities.
Be it as it may the issue of developing and modernizing local aviation infrastructure in order to sustain and optimize the rapidly-expanding air traffic on the continent was on the front burner, most importantly as aviation remains a formidable contributor to the Gross Domestic Product of any economy.
The President of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Dr. Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, while giving his address at the Conference has harped on the need to sustain and optimize the rapidly expanding air traffic on the African region through the continued development and modernization of local aviation infrastructure, particularly at airports.
He stated that ICAO’s related goal is to ensure there are no constraints of infrastructure capacity, technology and financial resources for aviation development.
He said: “I will like to reiterate that this rapidly-expanding air traffic can only be sustained and optimized through the continued development and modernization of local aviation infrastructure, particularly at airports.
“This is a key reason why ICAO’s Global Plans are helping to establish globally-harmonized objectives and requirements in support of the worldwide modernization of our sector which is now underway.
“Our related goal is to ensure there are “no constraints of infrastructure capacity, technology and financial resources for aviation development.”
He however said that it has become increasingly difficult for many states and airport operators to mobilize the significant and dependable funding and investments required for high quality aviation infrastructure, adding that the very limited volume of official development assistance (ODA) and South-South cooperation funding currently available for the sector’s infrastructure projects is a big part of this challenge, as are the constraints being faced with respect to public financing more generally.
Another key concern according to Aliu is the risk associated with a lack of sufficient institutional, legal and regulatory enabling frameworks in many African states, something which makes it very difficult for financial institutions to invest in airport projects.
“We must also jointly recognize that the slow implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) was for many years, a limiting factor on the number of flights many African airports were managing and this made the financing situation quite precarious for many airports here, due to low utilization levels and therefore poor returns on investment,” he noted.
On the other hand, he said due to the more recent and increased focus on air transport liberalization, many African hub airports are now expected to exceed their capacity by 2020, with a new set of attendant challenges relating to the safety and efficiency of operations.
He announced that additional activities have been pursued under ICAO’s ‘No Country Left Behind initiative,’ specifically aimed at assisting African states to address aviation safety, security and facilitation, as well as persisting skilled manpower challenges. These according to him include but are certainly not limited to the ICAO Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa (AFI Plan) and the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Security and Facilitation in Africa.
Aliu added that where the shortages of skilled aviation personnel are concerned, there were establishment of a dedicated Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) for Africa.
He expressed pleasure that these initiatives were delivering positive results leading to a significantly reduced accident rate on the continent.
The ICAO President recalled that in this context airport facilities were much more than just impressive new terminal buildings, stressing that more attention must continue to be paid to the airside safety priorities at Africa’s airports, including international airport perimeter fencing, taxiway and runway safety, effective fire services and wildlife management.
Continuing he said: “ICAO remains particularly concerned that many African airports are accepting international flights without requisite certifications. In order to address this significant deficiency the ‘AFI Plan’ includes a specific project championed by ICAO Dakar and Nairobi Regional Offices to assist African states in Aerodrome Certification In compliance with the Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) contained in Annex 14 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation.
“It is also important to remember that airports are very much at the ‘front lines’ where aviation security and passenger facilitation are concerned, and that they are the source of many travelers’ first impressions of the country they may be visiting.
“Airports also play a very important role in our efforts to check the spread of communicable disease through air transport.”
Conscious of these challenges, he said ICAO has been working with ACI and other stakeholders to assist States in securing resources and capacities to develop and modernize their aviation infrastructure.
Thereafter, he took time to to thank ACI for its contribution to the improvement in Africa-wide implementation of ICAO’s safety, security and facilitation SARPs.
His words: “We are also working together to foster Collaborative Decision Making (CDM) to improve real-time coordination and information sharing between airport operators, aircraft operators, ground handlers and air traffic control as well as with border control agencies to enhance safety, security, and I would like to take a moment here to thank ACI for its contribution to the improvement in Africa-wide implementation of ICAO’s safety, security and facilitation SARPs.
“I am pleased to acknowledge that a good deal of the total success being achieved under our No Country Left Behind initiative, has also been due to ACI’s collaborative Airport Excellence (APEX) in Safety and Security and other related programmes.”
Also speaking at the Conference, Secretary to the government of the federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said that most African countries including Nigeria are intensifying efforts to improve aviation infrastructure to boost the continent’s economic development.
He said though the state of aviation infrastructure on the continent has improved significantly over the years, Africa nonetheless, still needs to upgrade facilities, improve operations, service quality, security and airspace safety.
To transform aviation business in Africa, he said countries would be expected to continue to attain and maintain global safety standards, strive to achieve competitiveness and user-friendliness, install infrastructure and navigation aids to maximize aircraft utilization for ‘ passenger and cargo movement, achieve costs competitiveness, develop integrated multi-modal transport system around the airports as well as diversify revenue lines.
“For sustainable development of African airports, new strategies must also evolve. These strategies include holistic planning for defined development targets, effective and efficient financing plan and successful implementation.
“The role of partnership with the private sector cannot be over-emphasized. All these would be complemented by a reliable legal, institutional and regulatory framework to institutionalize policy,” he said.
Commenting on Nigeria, Mustapha said majority of airport infrastructure are government-owned, saying that the federal government had continued to promote infrastructural development, facilities renewal and implementation of policies aimed at facilitating the growth and sustainability of the sector.
He listed some of the key events and projects undertaken to achieve government’s objectives to include hosting the International World Aviation Forum in Abuja, certification of two of the Murtala Muhammed lnternational Airport Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, construction of five new international terminals at Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt and Enugu airports to expand passenger handling capacity to 15 million annually.
Mustapha listed others as implementation of aviation sector roadmap which was approved in 2016 aimed at opening opportunities for investment, concession of four international airports, establishment of search and rescue unit to be implemented through public and private partnership, establishment of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) with the mandate to remove bureaucratic bottlenecks and constraints to doing business in Nigeria and issuance of executive orders aimed at facilitating and easing entry experience of investors, visitors and travelers at the nation’s ports.
He said the full implementation of the aviation roadmap which is progressing in line with milestone targets will result in the transformation of business and economic growth in the sector.
He added that the federal government “is committed to attracting investors and investments into Nigeria and is providing appropriate legislation, infrastructure and security to protect them.”
“It is clear that ACI and Nigeria are in sync on the development of the aviation industry in Africa. Our goal is long-term business sustainability and we are happy to have a dependable ally in ACI,” he said.
Earlier in his welcome address, the Managing Director of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, Engr. Saleh Dunoma, said FAAN’s relationship with ACI Africa spans over a decade and it has been a worthwhile and mutually benefiting relationship.
He explained that AC1 Africa works with its members and also liaises with other international bodies like ACI World, ICAO and others to ensure improved human capacity development by providing various standard and customized trainings in different skill areas to ensure safe, secure and efficiently managed airports.
He recalled that last year, Nigeria signed the agreement to become one of the ‘ AC1 global training centers, to further advance the goal of human capacity development in FAAN and in Africa. Dunoma said the first training after the agreement was conducted in December 2017 where Nigeria received participants from other African countries.
According to him over the years, ACI Africa had focused on safety as a priority leading to the initiation of the world wide acknowledged APEX in safety programme. “This has recorded great achievements as major airports continue to requests for this programme.
“Nigeria has been in the forefront in striving to attain the highest levels of safety standards; hence with the assistance of the APEX in safety programme, we were able to achieve the certification of our two busiest airports.
“Our goal is to certify all our international airports and we are working tirelessly to achieve that, hence we have taken the bold step to carry out the APEX in safety programmes in our international airports,” he said, announcing that the APEX review for Kano and Port Harcourt were carried out in March while reviews for Enugu and Kaduna airports are scheduled for June this year.
The core objective of ACI as the voice of the world’s airports makes the association a ready partner of member states numbering 176 countries with 1,940 airports.
Its role as a veritable platform for the development of best practices in airports management, professionalism and key driver of policies in the aviation industry since 1991, gives the Association a pride of place amongst Associations in the global Aviation industry.