World Analysis: Fulfilling Africa's potential

Africa is the world’s smallest aviation market with large potential if it can overcome challenges including infrastructure and regulations.

Like the rest of the world, Africa was hit hard by the pandemic as passenger services largely ceased for a period and cargo filled the void, says Dirk Goovaerts, CEO Continental Europe, Middle East and Africa and Global Cargo Chair at Swissport.

The ground handling business was heavily affected by most passenger services not operating with Goovaerts commenting: “The local governments often made no long-term plans, and the rules changed weekly or even daily, creating instability.”

Air cargo operations took off with products in the medical, perishables and e-commerce sectors filling the space.

Ethiopian Airlines was the first airline to use a passenger aircraft for cargo operations, using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to carry 16 tons of PPE and other cargo from Addis Ababa to Kinshasa on 25 March 2020.

In early 2021, Kenya Airways converted a 787 into a freighter, the first conversion for this aircraft type.

Other airlines have launched cargo operations with RwandAir taking delivery of its first freighter in November 2022 and Air Tanzania was preparing to launch freighter services at the time of going to press.

Covid-19 is no longer classed as a global health emergency by the World Health Organization. Passenger travel globally is getting back to normal with Africa at over 90% of pre-pandemic levels, which is helping Swissport’s ground handling business.

Restoring operations depended on local factors, says Goovaerts, with vaccination programmes affecting when domestic and international travel could restart.

He said: “Swissport’s ability to adapt quickly was imperative to operational readiness. The recruitment campaigns were launched to attract skilled staff that often moved to other industries after the pandemic.”

The pandemic created uncertainty and instability with regulations sometimes changing daily, so businesses had to be agile and flexible to cope.

Teams who had only handled passenger flights were handling freighter services, with Goovaerts praising their willingness to adapt as being the key to success.

Digitalisation was a focus area, Goovaerts said: “Self-check-in kiosks for the truck drivers minimised close contact and reduced waiting times. Mobile devices and applications helped the teams to communicate the data and remove human error risks digitally.”

Cargo links means produce can be exported and Swissport operates warehouses in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elisabeth, Accra and Algiers. In Nairobi, Algiers and Accra, Swissport operates pharma centres.

Goovaerts said: “Our teams in Tanzania continue to handle record numbers of meat exported mainly to the Middle East and Europe. Swissport in Kenya has established a cutting-edge Fresh Cut Flowers corridor with a door-to-door cool chain solution that extends the shelf life of fresh flowers exported from Kenyan farms.”

Africa is a focus area for Swissport, which is positioning itself as the partner of choice for existing and new clients.

Swissport operates at 31 airports in Algeria, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa and Tanzania, and is looking to expand at its existing locations and enter new markets.

Goovaerts sees potential in Africa due to airlines and local governments investing in airport infrastructure.

There are challenges, he admits, flagging up monopolies and the lack of an aviation legal system. As aviation develops, the Swissport team thinks that a more conventional approach will appear.

Goovaerts said: “To prepare for the growth of the ground handling market in Africa, Swissport has been investing in sustainable solutions, digitalisation, new technologies, and infrastructure. Those elements are fundamental to building a safe and engaging work environment for the employees. By delivering advanced solutions, we maximise efficiency for our clients and partners.”

Combined network
One year since Menzies Aviation and National Aviation Services (NAS) combined their networks, this has created the largest aviation services company in Africa with a network of 40 stations in 19 countries, says Abdoulaye Cisse, Head of Africa at Menzies Aviation.

The combined companies under the ownership of Agility strengthens Menzies’ position in Africa, with Cisse saying: “The best of both NAS and Menzies has been brought together and our Middle East, Africa and Asia leadership team has been bolstered. We are focused on accelerating growth across all regions, including Africa where we see significant potential for both air cargo and ground services.”

The year has started well with NAS’ stations getting integrated into Menzies’ network to standardise work methods so the company can provide the highest quality and safest service to customers.

Certification and recertification of IATA Safety Audit for Ground Operations (ISAGO) is being pursued at 16 stations.

In South Africa, Menzies has secured a five-year ground handling licence and has won contracts for both ground handling and cargo services.

Cisse said: “Even though we have been quite successful in these activities, we were and are still impacted by various challenges in our sector that include: high operating costs, lack of investment in airport infrastructure and a need to make our industry attractive to the next generation of talent, among others.”

The pandemic was a challenging time with ground service providers having to adapt and implement new solutions.

Normality is returning, says, Cisse, saying that flight volumes across Africa are 95% of pre-pandemic levels and 100% in some locations.

Cisse said: “The pandemic saw us embrace new technologies to optimise our resources, minimise the risks and increase productivity. We continued to train and upskill our employees and implement resourcing plans that allowed flexibility to adjust to the ever-changing situation. While it was a difficult period, the experience has led to a lot of learnings that we are taking forward into the ‘new normal’.”

Operating in 19 out of the 54 countries in Africa gives Menzies opportunities as it looks to raise standards in Africa by providing new technologies, equipment, training and certification.

Cisse admits there are hurdles, citing protectionism from national carriers, limited visa-free travel, a lack of investment in airport infrastructure, political instability and high taxes.

He said: “The potential for air travel in Africa is huge. It has 17% of the world’s population yet only contributes about 2% of total global travel. Air connectivity on the continent can be vastly improved and when it does, the boom in air travel will create new opportunities for our sector to grow alongside airline customers.”

This article was published in the August 2023 issue of Ground Handling International, click here to read the digital edition and click here to subscribe.

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