Solving The Challenges Of Aviation In Africa-INTERVIEW: Hassan El-Houry

Aviation in Africa remains one of the fastest growing sectors today. With a noticeable increase in the number of passengers, the continent is becoming a destination of worldwide airlines, and a major market for business aviation.

Mr Hassan El-Houry, an expert on the aviation industry, spoke at the World Economic Forum in Durban where he shed light on the opportunities for aviation development in Africa. We had the opportunity to speak with Mr El-Houry this week on the state of Aviation in Africa.

Mr Hassan El-Houry, is the  CEO of National Aviation Services (NAS). He has spearheaded NAS’ expansion into more than 30 airports, including international airports in India, Afghanistan, UAE, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Rwanda and Morocco, among others. 

Mr El-Houry is a regular commentator on the issues surrounding Africa’s aviation industry and the prospects greater connectivity hold for unlocking the economic progress in Africa.

AFRICA.COM: How is the sector of aviation in Africa now?

Aviation in Africa is one of the fastest growing sectors perhaps in the world. The IASA which is the regulatory body that regulates aviation around the world said that Africa will grow about 5% over the next twenty years. Therefore,  We are very optimistic about the future of aviation in Africa although there are challenges, but we are very confident that the development of the region’s economies, the rate of urbanization, the growth of tourism, the growth of business travel, … all of these factors are driving a huge demand for air travel.

AFRICA.COM: Will the local economies benefit from that?

Absolutely! Aviation is the backbone of the economy, and there are reasons for that. I mean if you want to travel to do business between two countries or two cities, the best way for you to travel is by air.  Aviation drives tourism, the medicine that people use is normally imported by air, the mobile phone we are using to speak right now is imported by air, a lot of jewellery and clothing, laptops, so many things that we use on a day-to-day basis, all transported by Aviation. The growth in an economy is underpinned by aviation, and then you have to think of aviation also as a facilitator. Besides, the interesting thing about aviation is that it needs skilled and some unskilled labour, and so the growth of Aviation can address some of the employment issues that the region is facing.

AFRICA.COM: In one of your articles you suggested the need for a “single air transport market” in Africa, would you please clarify this point?

That’s right! I would say there are several challenges that are hampering the growth of Aviation in Africa. The barriers for airlines to travel between Africa are tremendous. The air ticket prices travelling between African countries are some of the most expensive in the world. Just compare traveling, let’s say, from Algeria to Cameroon or from Tanzania to South Africa, if you compare the distance and the ticket price and then you compare any two cities in Europe, you will find that the prices in Africa are three, four, even five times higher than the ticket prices in a similar distance in Europe or North America. That’s really hampering the growth in the continent.

There is also another problem which is the lack of liberalisation of these air markets. Essentially, what is happening is that it is very difficult for African airlines to get flying rights between major African cities. We have done a lot of research and we found that almost in every single case when there is an agreement on a liberal air market, the number of passengers rises about 50%. An example for that is when South Africa and Kenya signed an agreement in early 2000, that led to almost 70% rise in passenger traffic. In 2006, Morocco and EU signed an Open Sky Agreement that led to 160% rise in traffic between the two geographies. So, just allowing the operation of liberalising these markets can lead to huge increases in passenger numbers.

The third point that I would like to mention is with regard to Visas. A simple study was done and found that Africans are required Visas to travel to 55% of the countries in the continent. We have experienced that if somebody wants to go from country “A” to country “B” he may need to go to country “C” to get a Visa to go to country “B”. This is a really big burden on business travellers, tourists and even families that want to reunite. We have been really pushing and lobbying for a single Visa requirement across the continent just like in parts of Europe.

AFRICA.COM: Why does aviation in Africa have all these problems?

Well, I think there are a number of reasons: first of all, aviation was used as a privilege for the “few” rather than a necessity for the economy to develop. There are governments that want to support national carriers, which comes at the expense of the average citizens who want to travel, so they keep the ticket prices expensive. At the end of the day, I don’t think it is one problem or there is one solution; Africa is  54 countries, and each country has its own history, its own challenges, and its own opportunities.

AFRICA.COM: In previous years, you have participated in the World Economic Forum, and you are a guest speaker at this year’s forum. What does the forum represent for you? How can it serve the sector of aviation in Africa?

I think the World Economic Forum is created to improve people’s lives. Aviation is no longer a luxury for the privileged few, it’s a requirement for everybody whether it’s a family that wants to reunite or somebody who wants to import medicine or someone who wants to travel for education or business… it’s a requirement. We are elevating the challenges that aviation has been experiencing, to the World Economic Forum hoping that the decision makers will look favourably upon the recommendations we are making. We hope, through the World Economic Forum, we can achieve the goals of liberalising air transport and making it a part of every African’s life.

The WEF represents an opportunity for me to present our company to the decision-makers, and as I said earlier, it’s an opportunity to elevate and explain the problems that we face. It is also an important opportunity for our company to be affiliated with world renowned organisations.

AFRICA.COM: What are the main services provided by National Aviation Services (NAS )?

The National Aviation Services, otherwise known as NAS – is the fastest growing aviation services provider in the Middle East, India, and Africa, providing comprehensive ground handling solutions, terminal and lounge management, meet-and-assist services, aviation training and security, and travel services to retail customers and to the world’s leading airlines.

AFRICA.COM: Are you really optimistic towards the future of aviation in Africa?

Absolutely! In the next 20 years, we estimate to see more than 300  million people travelling from, to, and within Africa.

AFRICA.COM: So, what is needed now?

Visa liberalisation. Open sky. Public-private partnerships.

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