THE airline industry is cautiously optimistic that South Africa’s tourism-damaging visa restrictions will soon be revoked. This follows the announcement earlier this week that President Cyril Ramaphosa has eventually instructed the Department of Home Affairs to rescind unabridged birth certificate requirements for foreign minors.
“We await confirmation of its revocation in hopeful anticipation,” Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA) CEO, Chris Zweigenthal, told the association’s 49th annual general assembly in Réunion on October 11.
However, he said, many challenges continued to prevent local airline industry profitability, affecting tourism, trade and investment, and ultimately socio-economic growth. African airlines were expected to lose another US$300m this year, representing the ninth straight year of losses for the continent. In Southern Africa, nine of 25 airlines were unprofitable, six were profitable, while the financial results of the remainder were unknown. While Africa’s passenger growth exceeded the global average (4.1% in Africa versus 3.3% globally) and low-cost carriers had a growing share of 65% of the SA domestic market, local airlines were hamstrung by:
- Intense competition from foreign carriers, resulting in lower yields on international routes
- High dollar-based costs, including aircraft leasing and financing; distribution; maintenance; infrastructure service provider costs; and 35% more expensive jet fuel
- Inconsistent policies within and between African states, leading to slow progress with waivers and visas on arrival
- The reappearance of Afrophobia in South Africa (which AASA strongly condemned).
“Airlines must narrow the delta between costs and revenues by increasing aircraft utilisation, raising productivity and reducing other costs. This will enable them to offer competitive services at fares that covered their costs – a move toward sustainability.”
He urgently called on the leadership of the African Union, its agencies and member states to resolve differences holding up the implementation of the Single Africa Air Transport Market. “As a matter of urgency, the African Civil Aviation Commission, as the mandated SAATM executing agency, must convene a meeting of concerned states and airlines to identify and thrash out the problems. Africa’s credibility is on the line,” he urged.
Zweigenthal said data-driven technologies represented opportunities for airlines to unlock value, especially if they took the hassle out of travel for passengers. However, the flip-side was the importance of continued investment in data security, especially where transactions were done in numerous jurisdictions and covered by various laws.
He also highlighted progress toward gender equality in the region, with 52% of airline employees and 38% airline CEOs in SA being women, but only 10% being airline pilots and 10.5% technicians and engineers.