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The Future is Golden

Tony Tyler, IATA's Director General & CEO

By Tony Tyler, IATA's Director General and CEO

Airline connectivity is ubiquitous. The air transport network links 40,000 city pairs around the globe with direct services. And virtually every corner of our planet is within reach on a one-stop or two-stop basis. That’s an incredible achievement for an industry that is barely 100 years old.

The direct impact is pretty obvious. People do business, visit family and friends or discover new parts of the world. And cargo flows support complex supply chains and bring goods to market. Air transport makes it possible to enjoy summer fruit from the southern hemisphere in the middle of a northern winter.

Flying is so safe and reliable that we take it for granted. This year over three billion passengers will choose to sit in metal tubes to be gently lifted to a height of 10,000 meters to return to land many kilometers away. It is so commonplace that we often forget what an amazing achievement it is.

The 69th IATA Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit is a unique opportunity to take time out to celebrate industry successes and address its many issues. And the AGM is all the more special for being held on African soil for just the third time.

It is absolutely appropriate that we are here in 2013. Aviation has a huge role to play in Africa. It is the second largest and second most populous continent—after Asia in both cases. And with GDP expected to expand by some 6% annually over at least the next decade, its economy is the second fastest growing.

Despite these impressive dimensions, Africa’s air transport industry is relatively small. African airlines account for less than 3% of global air traffic.

But the potential is enormous and growing it is an easy choice, compared with the Herculean engineering, financial, and environmental tasks involved in providing land connectivity to link Africa’s economies to each other and the rest of the world.

There is growing optimism that Africa is on the cusp of enormous positive change. Aviation has a big role to play—but only if we can improve safety, upgrade the infrastructure, and reduce costs.

That African governments are resolved to address safety was made clear with the adoption of the Abuja declaration committing the continent to achieving world-class safety levels by 2015. The African carriers on the IATA Operational Safety Audit registry have achieved this level. And the industry is partnering with governments to bring the rest of the continent’s airlines on board with this important global standard. Governments are also upgrading the infrastructure to meet the needs of expanding airlines. It is a huge task—particularly after decades of neglect or underfunding. Partnership here is critical as well. We must work together to determine what is needed—and at what cost.

Some African governments understand that aviation needs to be made more competitive. Angola, Ghana, and Uganda have introduced measures to reduce fuel costs which are, on average, over 20% more expensive in Africa than the global average. The Cape Town AGM provides an opportunity to focus global attention on Africa’s challenges. The priority list includes safety, reducing costs, improving infrastructure, and building the regulatory and tax environment to facilitate growth. It is a list that has resonance in many places outside  Africa as well. The difference is the concentration of issues and the dimension on which they must be solved. Put another way, aviation has enormous potential to amplify the development that is currently taking place to support growth and prosperity. It will be a long journey. But there is a pot of gold for all at the end.



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