Abderahmane Berthé, the AFRAA Secretary General speaking during the recent media lab organized by Uganda Airlines
The African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Secretary General, Abderahmane Berthé, has said Uganda Airlines has set a strong foundation for future growth and success.
Berthé made the revelation during an exclusive interview with Business Focus’ Taddewo William Senyonyi, on the sidelines of the three-day (04 – 06 July 2023) media Lab organized by Uganda Airlines at Kyangabi Crater Resort in Rubirizi district, Western Uganda.
The training that covered various topics in the airlines industry was attended by mainly business editors and senior reporters.
The informative and engaging training was facilitated by AFRAA boss – Abderahmane Berthé, AFRAA Senior Manager Business Development & Communications –Maureen Kahonge and Uganda Airlines Leadership Team headed by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Jennifer Bamuturaki.
Below are the excerpts of the interview;
Q: Briefly tell me about the current state of the airlines industry in Africa.
A: Airlines globally are operating in a tough environment. African Airlines carried 67 million passengers in 2022 and are expected to carry 85 million passengers in 2023. African Airlines also exceeded their pre-COVID number of international routes in October 2022. The industry is slowly recovering from the COVID-19 impact.
Q: The operating environment for airlines in Africa remains tough and this is made worse by protectionism tendencies. This perhaps explains why many airlines are making losses. What is AFRAA doing to ensure that African Airlines become competitive and profitable?
A: We know that the environment isn’t easy; airlines are faced with high costs of operations and blocked funds among other challenges. We are pushing to make sure that decision makers find solutions to these problems.
The African Union has set a framework of projects that are very important for the airlines industry; The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) aims to remove restrictions on market access. There are concerns for some of the Airlines that big Airlines will come and eat into their market. That’s why we are saying it’s very important for airlines to talk to cooperate. As at July 2023, a total of 36 African States had already signed up for SAATM.
The second project is the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) because African states are not trading enough between themselves. It’s very low; they’re mainly trading with other continents. Intra-continental trade in Europe is at 50% and in Asia, it is at 60%. The situation in Africa has to be changed; we are still importing many things from outside the continent including coffee, chocolate and tea among others. SAATM and AfCFTA are two pilot projects of the AUC that are complementary to develop intra-Africa connectivity. SAATM was launched in January 2018 and currently 36 States have signed the Solemn Commitment. The AfCFTA was adopted in March 2018, entered into force in May 2019 and as at June 2023, 46 of the 54 signatories (85.2%) had ratified and deposited their instruments of AfCFTA ratification.
The third project is the African Passport & Free Movement of People. This is very important because if you want to facilitate business in Africa, the people (Africans) need to be free to move without the need of a VISA as is the case in many African countries. It’s moving but it’s very slow. We think this is the future where we want to go because aviation plays a very big role in the growth of the continent. It’s not only about connectivity, but also affordability. We want more African citizens to travel by air transport. We are pushing to create an environment that will make airlines business sustainable in Africa.
Q: The 55th AFRAA Annual General Assembly is scheduled to take place in Uganda in November 2023. What informed your decision to choose Uganda to host this event?
A: The AFRAA General Assembly is annual and held from region to region. This year, it is supposed to be in East Africa. The host country must be one of our member airlines and Uganda Airlines has been a member of AFRAA since 2019. For us, it’s a very good opportunity for Uganda Airlines to raise its position in aviation through hosting the AGA. Before choosing the host country, we also look at the facilities in the country because if you’re hosting 400-500 delegates, it is very important to look at conference and hotel facilities that meet the international standards.
At AFRAA, we found that having our Annual General Assembly here hosted by Uganda Airlines will be a good thing. I came here last year in August to visit and assess the facilities/ hotels to ensure that they meet the requirements we expect from them and after that, we made a proposal to our executive committee to get their approval to invite our delegates here in Uganda. This is a process we go through to decide where to organize our General Assemblies. Last year it was in Dakar hosted by Senegal Airlines. We really expect to have a very successful General Assembly in Uganda. We have an organization Committee on the side of Uganda Airlines and at AFRAA, we also have a committee. The two committees started working together since last year and things are moving on very well. The Uganda Airlines CEO herself is very involved in organizing this event.
Q: What does such a big event mean for Uganda and Uganda Airlines in particular?
A: It means many things. The biggest impact will be on tourism. When you bring 500 delegates to Uganda not only from Africa, but also from the US, Europe and other continents, some will come with their families and later visit the country. On the business side, when you bring together our members; we have 50 members and 38 partners which comprise of aircraft equipment manufacturers, service and solution providers in aviation. It gives us an opportunity to network and gives Uganda Airlines an opportunity to be visible not only on the continent, but globally because our assembly is the biggest African aviation event so far. Everywhere they know that the 55th AFRAA General Assembly will be in Uganda hosted by Uganda Airlines.
Q: Looking at Uganda Airlines, what do you make of its future in light of the tough operating environment for the airlines industry globally?
A: I’m very optimistic that Uganda Airlines will grow. It’s a new airline and I really like what the CEO and her team are doing. They’re already undergoing restructuring and want to build a global airline and it takes time to have a global brand. The trend is very positive and inside the airline I have seen expertise because in the airlines industry if you don’t have skills, competencies, it’s very difficult to succeed. The management has already put the basis for Uganda Airlines to succeed and be a global airline.
Q: Your last comment…
A: The COVID-19 disruptions hit the airlines industry badly.
The airlines industry in general and Africa in particular is slowly returning to pre-COVID level of activity. 2024 should be the year to return to 2019 levels. AFRAA and its partners are committed to multiplying initiatives to ensure not only an accelerated resumption of activities, but also to establish an optimal operating environment for all actors in African aviation.
Globally, many airlines are not making a profit, but this doesn’t mean they’re not important; airlines play a key role in the growth and development of economies. Airlines facilitate trade, tourism and movement of people. It’s also important to note that as airlines make losses, all their suppliers are making a profit.