3rd African GHI Stakeholders’ Conference, Johannesburg, September 26-28

Written by: Alwyn Brice |
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The third edition of this magazine’s African conference attracted some 150 delegates, who took advantage of the array of speakers present and a busy exhibition hall.

Africa remains a complex, non-heterogenous amalgam of countries, albeit all united by a common goal: that of air travel. Yet this latter aspiration continues to tax the aviation sector’s movers and shakers. The conference sought to open up discussion on the continent’s difficulties and give delegates the chance to compare notes as well as address key speakers with particular knowledge of the environment. For the fuller story, read the December issue of Ground Handling International.

The topic of challenge was expounded by Brenda Aremo-Anichini, of Twiga Aero. Data supported her presentation on the sector’s shortcomings but she remained stoical, emphasising the fact that Africa presents a huge opportunity and that all the signs are pointing towards a future that will see ever-growing numbers of the population seeking to travel. The figures amaze: from 119m in 2014, the continent expects to see 280m by 2034. Three keys were mentioned: leadership, stakeholder participation and disruption, this latter a word that is increasingly featuring in the headlines today.

The airport’s stance

Rishi Thakurdin, a well-known figure within ACI Africa, was quick to admit to the segment’s shortcomings (security in particular) and expressed a hope that adequate funding could be on the horizon in order that projected demand could be met. Leadership of a sort was required here – a thread that ran through Al Valentine’s paper. A Bangkok-based consultant, Valentine stressed the benefits of transformational leadership: leaders are able to inspire and stimulate, he maintained, and are capable of bringing about extraordinary outcomes. In this context he cited Virgin and Southwest’s CEOs as examples of the genre.

Safety… and more safety

Anita Nmashie, representing the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority, spoke about safety management systems and emphasised that unless such stratagems were in place, progress would be difficult. The sharing of information was vital to the well-being of the African aviation sector, she asserted. One particular difficulty highlighted was that of GSE in Ghana: manifold problems with its maintenance and serviceability, together with the age of the ramp itself, were ongoing headaches, the audience learned.

And what about strategy? Marc Deleu, of DAS Handling, together with Swissport SA’s Richard Hunt, gave their views on what was required, whilst taking audience questions. Infrastructure, it was universally acknowledged, had to be improved before real progress could be made. Finance was again mentioned (or more precisely, the lack of it), whilst the whimsical ISAGO came in for a degree of comment, too. Whimsical? Well, it had not lived up to expectation in many handlers’ eyes; and its renaissance, whilst promising much, seemed questionable. Years ago, airlines were telling handlers that they wouldn’t be able to contract with them without it; the truth now was that it had reached a crossroads. The paucity of available IT and the absence of revenue uniformity in the sector was also highlighted.

LCC update

Dikko Nwachukwu is the founder and CEO of a new low cost African airline, that of jetWest. Operating out of Nigeria and with handling courtesy of NAHCO, here was one future, in concrete form. Likening the operation to that of European carrier easyJet, Nwachukwu was confident that cheaper air travel was not only desirable but also achievable. “Nigerians love to move around,” he said simply. Explaining that jetWest was going to tackle travel provision in a different way, Nwachukwu remained mindful of African requirements – and once the Nigerian operation was up and running, he would be looking further afield.

Alphabet soup

A-CDM – it’s been making the headlines for a while now, and its adoption has brought the foresighted plenty of benefits. Yet…

Yet still there seems to be a reluctance to embrace this concept. Adrian Young, a consultant from To70, quizzed the audience on the need for a better airline/handler relationship, pointing out that it was possible, despite the many stories to the contrary. “You will not stay in business long if you are not safe,” he declared ominously.

A-CDM is all about partnerships and a better use of resources. Pointing out that the airport environment is by its very nature volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, it was vital that stakeholders worked together.

If the ground provider is seen as the pivot between the airport operator and the airline, then it remained important that this fact was recognised and not overlooked, as was so often the case in the bigger scheme of things. Overall, declared Young, A-CDM represented a culture change – and if correctly implemented, it ought to bring the service provider to the very heart of the airport operation.

Security – keeping up with reality

The conference’s third day opened with delegates and a panel reviewing the topic of security: were we, wondered Aero Twiga’s Anichini, simply rewatching an old video? Hi-jacking of aircraft was past tense – today there were easier solutions open to the terrorist. There was, he felt, a need to move with reality and address the modern face of terrorism and implement appropriate security mechanisms. Best practice in this area was duly debated by Swissport’s Bob Gurr and consultant Herve Gueusquin.

This was followed by AFRAA’s Maureen Kahonge, who pointed to the growing urbanisation of the continent as one of the main drivers to future prosperity in the aviation sector. Flights within (as well as to and from) the continent all figured in this equation – and the increasing number of carriers testified to the desire on the part of the population to travel. Things were improving, she felt: there were no incident-related fatal airliner accidents in Africa in 2016, for example. IGOM was being looked on favourably and the earlier-mentioned A-CDM also had its place, she believed. And her recipe for the sector? Information and data sharing.

The right tools for the job

Finally, the subject of GSE. Was Africa ready for change? Aviaco’s Danny Vranckx expressed doubt over an electric future, stating that inadequate infrastructure and back-up both militated against progress in this direction. FODBOSS’s Mac Flamme was less pessimistic, pointing to solar power projects within the continent, although he fully agreed that resources were wanting (especially electric provision in some countries), a comment that was heard time and again over the three days. Speaking for Panus/Bliss-Fox, Simone Livraghi felt that diesel was fading (albeit slowly) out of the picture and that African stakeholders would do well to appreciate this fact.

What the delegates said:

“This was a very successful conference; thanks to the delegates who attended and the organisers of the conference. I benefited a lot from the one-to-one meetings, networking and the conference sessions.”

Wilson Ndhlovu

Next year’s African Stakeholders’ Conference will be moving from Johannesburg to Rwanda: join us at the Radisson Blu Kigali Convention Centre over September 11-13.

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