Airlines in Africa will lose (US) $42 for every passenger they carry in 2020 with a similar situation arising in the Middle East – losses are (US) $37 for every passenger carried this year.
These shocking statistics were revealed by IATA regional vice president for African and the Middle East Muhammed Ali Albakri who recently gave a press briefing on the two regions.
“Our indications are the situation has worsened and it doesn’t look like it is going to get better quickly – unless governments step in and help,” Albakri said.
IATA data shows that in southern Africa, passenger numbers are down by 58% and revenue by 60%. In east Africa numbers were down by 53% and revenues by 56% and the same level of percentages are reflected in west and north of Africa.
“It’s a bad situation and it’s getting worse. We have to have ways to reverse this cycle. It is detrimental to African nations in terms of GDP and it is starting to affect people’s lives,” he said.
In the Middle East the situation is similar. In the GCC and Levant regions passenger numbers are down 54% and 5% respectively. For every passenger ME airlines will carry they will lose (US) $37.
“As we enter the summer season this is supposed to be the high season but aircrafts remain grounded and borders remain closed. Countries have started to open but are putting in place restrictive measures that are preventing people from travelling,” he said.
Governments need to find a balance between protecting the health and safety of passengers, while opening up borders and rebuilding their economies.
Albakri called on African and ME governments to put aside their differences and not play politics with this situation by only allowing in passengers from certain countries.
More importantly he said, governments must also stop adding more costs to air travel.
“Recently I have heard of many examples where governments are adding more taxes. For example Air Seychelles just added a (US) $50 health tax for arriving passengers and Nigeria doubled their facilitation charges for passengers arriving to (US) $100. In Lebanon some airlines are charging airlines (US) $100 for Covid-19 tests for arriving passengers . This is not going to help restore the industry. This is not going to encourage people to travel,” he said.
A recent survey showed that travellers are as concerned about catching the virus while travelling as they are about having to quarantine.
“At present 40% of the countries in the world that have imposed quarantine measures are in Africa and the Middle East – that is 36 countries. For a region that needs travel and tourism that needs connection more than any other region this is not going to encourage people to travel.
“AME has the highest number of countries in the world with government-imposed quarantine measures on arriving passengers. The region is effectively in complete lockdown with the travel and tourism sector shuttered. This is detrimental in a region where 8.6 million people depend on aviation for their livelihoods,” Albakri said.
So what needs to happen?
Albakri said organisations such as the World Health Organisation, ICAO and IATA have come up with a set of measures and recommendations which should be applied will reduce the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
He said IATA is encouraging governments to educate travellers and really at the heart of this is simply that travellers who are not feeling well should not travel.
He said other measures and guidelines as outlined in the ICAO CART / Take-Off strategy is what governments and health officials should use when reopening borders.
As far as testing is concerned the matter is more complicated by what type should be used, who should pay for it.
Countries encourage countries to use the technology for contacting tracing as an effective measure that can help should anyone contract the disease. This will help to contact the person so that they can isolate and this mitigates against the need for quarantine measures.
He emphasised that government should apply the same the set of standards, work together with public health department and apply those vigorously as outlined by the CART take off strategy while the world is getting over this crisis.
The lockdown is having a huge negative financial effect and many airlines will not survive this without government relief. Locking down nations and a continent is not a long term solution. This is an abnormal situation. We have to find ways to re-ignite travel while protecting the health and safety of all concerned, he said.
Albakri said that IATA had written to a number of development agencies and international donors had received some financial relief but it is not enough and the organisation is still waiting to hear how much will go to help African airlines.
He said about (US) $120 billion has been raised to assist airlines around the world and about (US) $800 000 million for African airlines but this is not enough given the size of the continent and the number of airlines affected.
He said it still remained unclear where money pledged by the African Union and the Development Bank to assist African airlines would go.
“If anything this crisis has demonstrated the importance of connectivity and air travel around the world. The challenges faced in Africa are not unique to Africa they are the same all over the world,” he said.