With business and society increasingly transcending national borders, aviation has become a supporting leg of any transportation system. Although people use airlines for social and business relations, air transportation is also essential for the import and export of goods, driving the Economic Development currently underway in the region.
The air transport system throughout the SADC region varies from Member State to Member State, but largely meets current demand. However, as Member States of SADC integrate more with one another and the external world, the need for air transport is expected to exceed present capacity.
Recognising the scale of air transport and civil aviation in the region’s future, SADC’s Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology sets out a policy framework for the industry’s involvement in Regional Integration and economic development.
The Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology
In signing the Protocol on Transport, Communication and Meteorology, Member States acknowledge the importance of air transport in serving the interests of the region and agree to support a safe, reliable, and efficient industry based on the International Civil Aviation Organisation Standards and Recommended Practices. As national markets for air transport in the region remain small, Member States need to cooperate to ensure that regionally owned airlines remain competitive in a liberalised, commercial market. Therefore, the Protocol urges Member States to invest in improving human resources and technical capacity in the region, enabling privatised aviation to succeed on a commercial level.
As in other regions, air transportation in Southern Africa relies on a central hub through which most traffic flows; for the SADC region, this hub is the OR Tambo International in Ekurhuleni, South Africa, near Johannesburg. With a capacity to handle 28 million passengers annually, it is Africa’s largest airport, serving traffic from most countries on a daily basis, including through-traffic between capitals of SADC Member States. As air traffic in the region expands, most of it will pass through Johannesburg, which is currently set to accommodate an increase of two million passengers a year by 2030, building to three million passengers by 2040.
Elsewhere in the region, most airports are operating sufficiently, aside from incidental issues involving scheduling and mild maintenance. However, as traffic increases through stronger integration with the region and the world, traffic at many of these airports is expected to exceed their capacity. In particular, the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Zambia and the N’djili International Airport in the Democratic Republic of Congo currently operate at 70% of capacity, but expect an increase to well over 100% by 2020.
Air transport is an integrated, global enterprise that requires strict adherence to international standards, conventions, and recommended practices. While SADC officially ascribes to the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Standards and Recommended Practices, domestic airlines within Member States may follow other standards. Although many industry organisations operate within the region – the Airlines Association of Southern Africa, Airports Council International, and the Civil Air Navigation Service Organisation, for instance – there is no regional governing body and no unified policy or strategic framework specific to civil aviation. The African Civil Aviation Commission serves to promote harmonised aviation policies in line with those of the International Civil Aviation Organization, but it itself has no decision-making capabilities.
The Transport Sector Plan component of SADC’s Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan urges the need for establishing a regional coordinating body responsible for overseeing policy and implementation of a concerted civil aviation strategy. In response to this need, SADC initiated the Cooperative Development of Operational Safety and Continuing Airworthiness Program in 2008. Charged with assisting Member States in harmonising their national civil aviation regulations and technical procedures, this program serves as a forerunner to an eventual permanent organisation overseeing air transport in the region. However, this program has made little progress since its inception.
While integrating SADC’s air transport industry requires regulation of policy at a regional level, it also requires less regulation from an economic perspective. Aviation is a highly commercial enterprise that can best serve the region’s interests if operated according to commercial principles. Presently, domestic airlines and other aviation infrastructure within Member States are heavily regulated, often subsisting as state-owned services which do not consider commercial interests and, instead, maintain a system of domestic travel that is economically unsustainable.
Recognising that liberalisation of the air transport markets benefits all of Africa, the African Union developed the Yamoussoukro Decision in 1999. This Decision urges nations in Africa to move towards liberalising their air transport markets. In line with this Decision, SADC also promotes economic deregulation of the airline industry. However, progress on liberalisation has been slow at a national level due to Member States’ concerns that competition will undermine the viability of their national carriers.
In addition to light investments in safety equipment and improvements to terminal facilities throughout the region, SADC Member States are instituting the following upgrades of their national air transport infrastructure:
Botswana – In aiming to position Botswana as a regional air passenger hub, airports in Gaborone, Maun, Kasane, and Francistown are seeing significant investment for modernisation;
Madagascar – The Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo is currently being upgraded;
Mozambique – As the most important airport in the country, Maputo International Airport is modernising, with new passenger and cargo terminals;
Namibia – Airports are currently being upgraded;
Tanzania – In order to improve human resources, Tanzania is investing in a Civil Aviation Training Centre, positioning itself as a hub for aviation education. As well, plans for development and expansion of air transport facilities at Dar-es-Salaam are underway.