They say in Africa, it is often easier, faster and more reliable to get from one country to another by connecting through an airport out of the continent.
For instance, the quickest route from Nairobi to Bangui in the Central African Republic, a distance roughly equal to that between Chicago and Miami, is to fly eight hours north to Paris, change planes and fly eight hours south.
Getting from Africa to Europe is relatively simple, thanks to lingering ties from colonial days, but hopping across the length and breadth of Africa can be a nightmare. You cannot compare this with flying from Nairobi to Entebbe which was once mentioned as one of the most expensive routes in the aviation industry.
Again, flying from London’s Heathrow to Istanbul is not a difficult undertaking. It is a given that the journey will be direct and will take four hours or so. The only ‘task’ is deciding on which meals and drinks you would dine on the flight.
Now imagine if the same journey was routed here in Africa where convoluted flight itineraries are unfortunately the norm.
So far, some of the notable factors for these and that stop African airports from becoming international hubs are lack of cooperation among countries and stifling air connectivity, growth and development are misaligned government policies. Consequently, this has since discouraged the middle class who would wish to use airline between two neighboring countries, and instead opt for road transport which is so tedious.
Nonetheless, once African countries open up their policies to ease air traffic, as it looks, given recent endeavours, ramping up consumer demand will become paramount.
As it stands, passengers have reason to avoid African carriers; the continent is home to some of the most expensive airfares on planet earth. They are subject to excessive levies in the form of airport fees, jet fuel taxes, excise duties and more. There is also strained connectivity due to un-relaxed Visas.
Meanwhile, the problems caused by an unconnected Africa are not limited to inconvenient travel schedules and exorbitant air tickets. Far bigger are the opportunity costs to the economies of the African nations.
Trade and tourism is hindered and investment opportunities lost. And it is not just about economics. Aviation connects people. Africa would be a less fragmented continent with greater air connectivity. It is time to demystify air transport!
The continent cannot take off economically while its runway is incomplete. Governments in Africa need to treat aviation as a strategic asset and not as an instrument of foreign policy.
Africa’s past has long been defined by national insularity; its future lies in liberalization. There is more need to open up the aviation industry and promote it as core sector in economic development.
Air travel is no longer a luxury but a necessity, it is not like those days when flying across the continent was a trip back in time for Americans and Europeans, to the days when passengers brought their own food, when missing a flight meant a three-day wait for the next one and when a seat was not truly confirmed until you were sitting in it and the plane was airborne aftermath.
Despite a notable growing awareness of the role of the aviation industry could play in the development of the continent, the industry is still not meeting this expectation.
As we advocate for increased understanding of the African aviation industry and the growing presence of foreign companies, African governments must all be willing to open their skies and stop fearing that foreign competition would outshine national airlines, some of which have long ceased to operate.
Today, Africa has some of the world’s fastest-growing cities and is renowned for its indomitable entrepreneurial spirit, people have a greater need to move goods and services between markets, and when they have disposable income, they want to travel.
Making flights affordable will unlock the dreams that are often blocked by inability to fly across the globe. Air travel is imperatively essential to the prosperity of Africa as it opens up opportunities that did not exist before.
Talk about East African Community; fostering the African aviation industry may be one of the driving forces of integration in the region. Better connected African countries and regions through a viable air transport industry could be the vehicle that can boost intra-African business, trade, tourism as well as cultural exchanges.
Developing the aviation industry may also represent an opportunity to ease constant transport problems facing African countries.
Just like Rwanda’s national airline, RwandAir, on its heels of expanding rapidly into Africa, this is a recipe for more achievements considering that Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa.
Connecting Rwanda to its neighbouring countries and to the rest of the world will not only bring vast economic gains, but also presents a chance for Rwandans to access other opportunities that would have otherwise gone untapped.
Last week San Francisco-based transport tech giant Uber launched a motorcycle hailing service, known as UberMOTO, in Bangkok, Thailand, as a pilot project that aims to provide faster and reliable alternative transport in cities that are densely populated and prone to heavy traffic, Reuters reported.
While there are no immediate plans for the service to be launched in Africa, where motorbikes are used widely due to under developed transport system in many cities, the high standard that comes with signing up to Uber is expected to improve passenger safety on the continent.
In Uganda, where motorcycles — popularly known as boda bodas — are the main mode of transport in the capital Kampala and other smaller towns, there is already a startup that seeks to provide safe and efficient services for riders and their passengers.
The SafeBoda app, an initiative by a local tech startup, allows users to hail a boda boda at the click of a smartphone.
According to a CNN report, over 80,000 rides are taken on motorbikes in Kampala each day.
Services like UberMOTO and SafeBoda that require their drivers to meet certain standards and for all passengers using their service to wear helmets are seen as a good way to improve safety on the roads.
“Motorcycles are part of the commuting culture in Thailand, Douglas Ma, Uber’s head of Asia expansion told CNN, adding that the new service would also create job opportunities for thousands of Thais.
UberMOTO will be available on the Uber mobile application and operators will be required to have similar qualifications as their car counterparts and a helmet for their passengers.
The company has partnered with the Thai Traffic Police and Head Awareness Club (HAC) in efforts to educate the residents on motorcycle safety and is donating helmet to students and adults as part of the program.
This is not the first time that Uber has introduced motorcycle services. In 2012, it tried a similar service in Paris, France that lasted for several weeks. A similar service, UberAUTO, was also introduced in India but was abandoned months into existence after it was unsuccessful.