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How Intra Africa Trade can Promote Economic Gains

-By Abdulkarim Sani

The inability of the African continent to have connecting flights to member states has been identified as one of the banes of its economic prosperity.

Having functional connecting flights among African countries has remained a mirage over decades, the resulting effect is that passengers would spend productive hours that could be useful for their businesses before finally getting to their destinations.

Most flights in Nigeria only operate domestically and have not set mechanisms to operate even in the continent, let alone outside the continent.

It is estimated by financial experts that the country can boost its trade and economic activities by a surplus of over $1 billion monthly if the continent have viable intracontinental flights.

This is even more exigent now that the African Continent Free Trade Area Agreement AfCFTA has taken off with a huge market prospect.

Air Peace sets the pace

Priding itself as the pacesetter in Nigeria’s aviation sector,  Air Peace, in its resolve to boost intra-Africa air connectivity, kicked off the flights, which besides saving passengers travel time, will create a window to facilitate trade relations between Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria and one of the most vibrant economy in the continent, South Africa.

In a similar vein, the drive to achieve seamless air connectivity within Africa received a boost at the weekend when Nigeria reactivated its bilateral air services agreement (BASA) with the Republic of South Africa for direct flights between the two countries.

Though some Nigerian carriers namely, defunct Nigeria Airways Limited, Air Nigeria, and Arik Air had operated the route, flight operations were halted for sundry reasons.

However, there was a respite for air passengers in late December when Air Peace kicked off twice-weekly direct flights on the Lagos/Johannesburg route.

Though the carrier had been designated by the Federal Government to operate direct flights on the route, the carrier embarked on keen market assessment needs before activating the operations.

Chairman of Airpeace airline,  Mr Allen Onyema, said flights into South Africa being the carrier’s second international route have opened possibilities for intra-continental businesses, in addition to improving bilateral ties between the two countries.

He said the feat by the carrier indicated that Nigerian carriers still remain vibrant and competitive in the global space.

Onyema said the direct flights into South Africa would not only reduce travel time but also encourage real relationship.

He said: “We have chosen to fly twice weekly to Johannesburg as a carefully thought out strategy with the timing that is good for passengers. With time we will graduate the flight into daily operations.

“We feel great about this service which allows Nigerians fly direct to Johannesburg, South Africa and back to Nigeria instead of going round Africa before getting to South Africa. Now in less than six hours you can achieve that feat.

“This was our promise to Nigerians six years ago when the airline was launched, that we are not only going to connect cities within Nigeria, but will also connect the country with other nations of the world. Gradually we are getting there.

“Everything we said we will do in 2014, we have been able to achieve them and we believe we can do more with articulate planning. So, the era of saying Nigerian carriers are pushovers is gone forever. All we need from the government is an enabling operating environment to enable us perform and I bet you we would perform more than expectations.

“We do not want to kid ourselves that we are the only airline on the route now, some other people will want to come, so for us, we will strive to sustain the tempo of whatever we are doing    “We have to be pragmatic, we have to be strategic in our planning. We have been following our business plan meticulously since 2014.”

Also, the COO, Airports Company, South Africa, Fundi Sithe, commended the airline for flying into its flagship airport, Oliver Tambo International Airport.

She said the number of passengers on the return trip indicated that flight operations were much- awaited.

According to her, “We saw the inaugural flights arrive at Oliver Tambo Airport with huge number of passengers and also returned with greater number of passengers. This is significant and it tells us that there is a level of demand that has not been serviced.”

The Airport Manager called for more flight frequencies and direct operations into other South African airports, including Durban and Cape Town.

$1.7bn annual contributions to GDP

Meanwhile, the contribution of the aviation sector to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been put at $1.7 billion yearly.

The sector has also be estimated to create at least 341,000 direct jobs.

The Commissioner of the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Nigeria, Akin Olateru, made this disclosure, saying aviation remains a key component of the country’s economic growth.

He said that the air travel earnings were consistent with the recent figures released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He explained that air transport and tourism complement each other, pointing out that tourism depends on transportation to facilitate the movement of visitors, while the transportation industry depends on tourism to generate revenues for its services.

As such, industry players say any further delay in replicating the feat by Air Peace will be detrimental to the economic growth of the African continent.

It has been observed that the AfCFTA will require both shipment and air transportation to move goods from one country to another, a more reason why connecting flights remain key.