Conference Review 2018

4th African GHI Stakeholders' Conference, Kigali

Coinciding with African Aviation week, the 2018 GHI conference saw almost 150 delegates arrive in Kigali, Rwanda, to discuss current sector issues and learn more about how to enhance their operational environment. As ever, a comprehensive exhibition area backed up the proceedings and a useful number of One-to-One Meetings were also held over the three days.

RwandAir’s success story, delivered by the company’s Deputy CEO, Silver Munyaneza, started the event. Acknowledging the country’s problems (Rwanda being landlocked means that transportation is a headache: its rail network is poor and roads are slow, making aviation an essential element). Currently with 26 destinations, RwandAir is looking, in the longer term, to expand into Europe, Asia and north America. Ground handling is considered a profit centre for the company, which has a strong emphasis on safety and safety certification. The problems, though, persist, with Munyaneza citing air traffic rights, increasing costs and a paucity of technical personnel as all dogging the sector. Those present then plunged into the first of several debates.

Single market headaches

The initial discussion centred on how Africa could deliver on the much-publicised growth rhetoric. Abdoulaye Cisse, Group COO at NAS, spoke about the need for connectivity, the single market and the absence of an infrastructure, together with the manpower skills shortage. Training the right people was imperative, he felt, as was more regulation. He was worried that the same questions would be under the microscope in five years’ time; and that there were not too many experts in the relevant government aviation departments. Education, he asserted, was paramount; and current airline ticket prices were too high, a situation that would only be resolved by competition. “We all need to lobby the authorities – alignment is necessary. We’ve been talking about this for 20 years: it’s time for action.”

ACI Africa’s Rishi Thakurdin echoed the infrastructural difficulties and bemoaned the fact that a single market had yet to come into existence. Everyone, in his view, should sign up to the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), and the African Civil Aviation Commission should be the driver in this.

For Gaoussou Konate, CEO of KONSA, the need was one of thinking outside the box. The economic impact required study; the benefits of bilateral trade were readily apparent and the marketplace was not suitable for those with a selfish outlook.

Alexander Yeboah, of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, agreed that African nations were inept when it came to combining talent: they acted as strangers, he declared. This lack of trust was holding the sector back and fear, he believed, was quite palpable.

Kenya Airways’ Gordon Anyimu made the comment that legacy carriers tended to drive the smaller carriers out of the market and he decried an African air route network that necessitated a week of travel to attend a two-day conference. Did every country need a flag carrier, he wondered. Could not a pan-African airline be set up? Konate picked up on the topic of training and the difficulty in procuring young talent and retaining it.

Comments from the floor included mention of the government and the fact that it wore two hats. It was felt that the authorities could not be both the driver and the regulator: in this respect, “let the business drive the business” seemed to make more sense.

A need for collaboration

Konate appeared on stage again later, to talk about stakeholder collaboration within the sector. His presentation picked up on several of the themes already discussed, dwelling on the single carrier monopoly, and the fact that most Africans cannot afford air travel. He wanted to see the various levels of Freedom Rights instigated, a liberalisation of tariffs and unrestricted frequencies and capacities. In short, a consolidated approach could not be over-emphasised enough.

On to safety on the ramp – a perennial topic, which this time was presented by Tom Kok of AviAssist. To date, some 31 African countries have signed up for the single aviation policy but the remainder seem loathe to commit. Unless, and until, a more unified front is presented, it is difficult to see how real progress can be made. How could a world class culture be embedded? Was safety the only goal? Kok felt that the mantra of “service first, safety always” was fitting; this was, in fact, the Australian Peace Aviation credo. One snag was the lack of safety data available within the African continent. Strengthening incident investigation in each region was desirable; and perhaps forging a link with universities could engender small scale research.

Kok argued that taking advantage of collectivism in human nature (as opposed to individualism) was to be encouraged. Mentoring was an excellent way forward, for this enabled the passing of both advice and experience.

Maurizio Anichini and Brenda Aremo-Anichini of Twiga Aero followed the paper with a workshop on how to break down the barriers to safety excellence and the day was wrapped up by Amr Samir on how Link Aero Trading Agency has worked towards establishing a value-based partnership with its carriers.

Growth – and opportunities

Day Two kicked off with KPMG’s Ashwin Noronha dilating on the top five growth markets within Africa and their concomitant handling opportunities. Africa aviation has enjoyed three successive years of profitability and 2017 witnessed 7.6% growth in RPK figures. Although only 23 countries had signed up to SAATM, Noronha was confident that the figure would grow; he expected to see air fares fall by 30% by 2035 based on current predictions, while he forecast an annual market capacity of some 303m travellers.

South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and Ethiopia were the hotspots insofar as he was concerned; and in terms of ground handling, the growth has come from the independents. Mergers and acquisitions still held sway, he noted, and leveraging e-commerce was seen as desirable, with last mile connectivity worth pursuing. The fourth industrial revolution could not be ignored; the same could be said of the millennials who were driving change. In short, the ground handling business model had to adapt if it was to keep ahead of the rapidly advancing marketplace.

A discussion of the possibilities of joint Africa/Middle East opportunities followed, with talk on both strategy and challenges. Mohammad Zafar of SGS, Amr Samir, Amir Gaya of Arik Air and Mohamed Hanno of ASE all put forward their views. Hanno commented on the fact that growth in Africa was sluggish, despite the continent’s size, and that government intervention was not helping matters. Open Skies had to happen – it wasn’t an option in his view. An African chapter of ASA was desirable, as was SMS implementation. It was pointed out that the Middle East was ideally situated for connections and that alliances and codeshares had much to commend them. Zafar admitted that whilst Saudi Arabia was somewhat closed, that was changing now for carriers. Gaya pointed out that the history of the Middle East was not dissimilar to that of Africa; he welcomed connectivity and felt that once this was in place, there was much promise. All felt that the governments held the key to the problem: the private sector needed to step into the arena.

Safety and security on the ramp was examined by Alexander Yeboah, who flagged up the problem of the “insider threat” and highlighted the fact that success required publicising. Noting IATA’s findings, that 92% of incidents result from a failure to follow SARPs, it was clear that education and training could not be overlooked.

The theme was reprised by AFRAA’s Maureen Kahonge, who went on to talk about cost and how it might be managed. Various solutions were put forward and she ended her paper by emphasising to the audience that the opportunities were there: it was merely a case of seizing them.

The next debate centred on the balance between contract price and OTP, with Mohamed Hanno and Mpho Sekhamane of South African Airways leading the discussion. IGOM and ISAGO both came under the spotlight; good in theory but costly in practice were the principal findings. The debate led on to another contentious topic for discussion, that of asking whether those present had the courage to make change happen. This session provoked many thoughtful exchanges and a variety of topics were considered, including leadership, access to a competent labour force, the building of relationships and overcoming the low level of stakeholder collaboration.

Rishi Thakurdin’s delivery on working at the airport encompassed the difficulty in arousing passion within a ramp workforce: how could this be fostered if the staff were from a poor cultural background? Identifying an individual’s role in the operation was deemed a necessary step if the idea of group cohesion was to be made a reality, he felt.

Next was Hassan El Houry’s paper, which focussed on the rapid growth experienced by NAS, and in which he revealed some of the key elements in the handler’s portfolio. Adopting global standards but with a local flavour provided a hint of how success had been achieved but he acknowledged the need for financial astuteness as well as investment in technology.

Wrapping up

The final day of the conference drew together three diverse subjects: Kadir Oguz of Further Network was present to explain blockchain technology to those present and why this technology was going to become indispensable to the aviation sector. Lawyer and Civil Aviation Academy member Sebina Muwanga then looked at ground handling through the expedient of regulation, and asked how this might be effectively managed. The end of the morning focussed on GSE, with Aviaco’s Danny Vranckx, Denis Mespole-Somps of ITW GSE and Swissport’s Bob Gurr all bringing their combined knowledge to the table.  A fascinating debate ensued, with much stress laid on having the right equipment for the job. Whilst new technology was indeed welcome, often the reality was that simpler, more basic equipment was what was required in a continent where challenges and opportunities were abundant, often in equal measure.

In summarising the event, the overwhelming feeling of the delegates was that it had been a useful conference, allowing much interaction and networking. Africa’s problems were not of a nature that allow a rapid remedy; but with this kind of open forum, much in the way of groundwork could be laid.