Published On: June 21st, 2022By Categories: Feature2.6 min read


By Heidi Gibson – World Airnews

African Airlines are only likely to recover to pre-covid levels a year or more behind the global market for a variety of reasons, IATA director general Willie Walsh told a press briefing at the close of the World Transport summit and AGM in Doha, Qatar.

He said one of which is the low level of vaccination – some 15% of adults on the continent.

A second issue, Walsh said is that of blocked funds. “This also plays a huge role in the recovery of the aviation industry” he said. The issue of blocked funds is when African governments hold back foreign currency payments to international airlines.

Globally, airlines are owed (US) $1.6 billion and, of this amount – 67 per cent is stuck in 12 African countries.

At an earlier briefing IATA vice president for Africa and the Middle East Kamil Al Awadhi exposed Nigeria as the worst offender – withholding $450 million in payments due to foreign airlines. This is the largest amount held by any single African country, and the amount is rising every week.

IATA has held two rounds of discussions with Nigerian authorities, including the country’s central bank, to get this much needed cash for airlines trying to get back on their feet.

“The excuse was that ‘we don’t have the hard cash, and this is why we can’t do it’ but you have to note that Nigeria is the biggest economy in Africa and Nigeria is the No 10 country in the world that exports oil,” he said.

“While I was in that meeting with the central bank, they were not responsive to handling the blocked funds issue and almost said, ‘well, tell the airlines not to operate’. This is, of course, extremely damaging to the aviation industry inside Nigeria and internationally.”

Walsh said faced with this situation international carriers will simply not put in capacity (flights), and all this will do in the end is hurt consumers who will have less choice, less frequency and higher prices.

“What we are trying to do is get governments to face up to this issue,” he said.

Turning to the question of Sustainable Aviation Fuel or SAF, Walsh said this is the solution to reducing the industry’s environmental impact and a key to reaching the global commitment to net zero carbon by 2050.

“SAF presents a huge opportunity for Africa. Think about it in Africa you have multiple sources of feed stock, you can reduce your dependence on imported oil, generate jobs and improve your environmental impact,” he said.

He said the demand for SAF among the industry is just going to grow as the targets get closer. The problem is not in the demand, it is the supply. It is our strong belief that it can be produced anywhere and the challenge in establishing refineries that can produce it is not just in Africa – it is a global problem.”

Currently there are no operating SAF refineries on the continent. SAF is a biofuel used to power aircraft that has similar properties to conventional jet fuel but with a smaller carbon footprint.

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