African airports: It’s good to talk why collaboration is the name of the game

With significant growth forecast across the continent’s aviation sector, Chloe Wilson reports on how the industry is tackling challenges to safety and security in African airports.

Home to some of the fastest-growing economies on the planet, Africa’s growth rate has been trending upwards in recent years. Subsequently, the number of air passengers travelling to and across the continent is also on the rise.

While the continent’s aviation sector has the potential to grow significantly in the years to come, Angela Gittens, Airports Council International (ACI) World’s director general, also underlined during the 2018 ACI Africa Annual General Assembly that airports need to realistically assess challenges together and implement aviation-related safety and security actions and initiatives, in line with this growth.

“One of the main challenges facing African air travel remains safety and security,” noted Ali Tounsi, director general, ACI Africa. And with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicting that air travel growth in Africa will outpace all other regions of the world over the next 20 years, this will not only put additional pressure on the continent’s existing airport infrastructure, but it will also pose new challenges for safety and security management.

Whether it is due to acts of terrorism, inconsistency in the implementation and enforcement of internationally accepted standards; threats from insiders; aviation cybersecurity; security on the ground; or conflict, the aviation industry around the world continues to be highly exposed to operational safety and security risks and African airports are no exception.

Papa Diery Sene, deputy director general, Teranga Sureté Aéroport, the agency that handles security at Dakar Blaise Diagne Airport in Senegal, elaborated further, citing the “political will of governments” as a significant challenge to the industry. “We need to move from security operated by public security forces (police or governmental bodies) to join the global movement of outsourcing security measures to private security operators,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sene’s colleague, Yacine Kebe, safety, environment and quality manager at Dakar Airport, underlines that achieving aerodrome certification (a requirement for all airports by 2022 under the Abuja Declaration) is another challenge for airports, when it comes to ensuring safety standards.

“Certain requirements that comply with modern safety standards can be difficult and costly to implement,” Kebe stated. While “training costs can be a significant challenge for smaller hubs with low traffic, especially when it comes to airport rescue and fire-fighting training”.

To address the threats faced by African airports, measures, including the deployment of new screening technologies, implementation of safety management systems, and effective management practices and training, alongside a solid safety and security culture, are imperative, according to ACI Africa.

Capacity building is one area where Kebe believes airports can work together to address their challenges. “If we work as a unit, we could pool our human resources and create an African experts pool. All airports could then benefit from expertise throughout their region. We could develop ‘train the trainers’ programmes to share competencies among ourselves, which would also reduce the cost of training.”

It’s an idea, she adds, that is being implemented by ACI Africa under its African airports development programme (AADP).

Tom Kok, director of AviAssist Foundation, agrees that the cost of training can be prohibitively expensive for some airports. He suggests that, as an alternative, airports could buy in-house editions of a training course of an industry branch association.

But he would also like to see more opportunities being created “closer to home” to enable the volume of training that will be needed in the coming decades. He highlights Kenya Airports Authority as doing a great job with its internal academy. “But those kinds of initiatives are still too few,” he added.

Fostering exchange programmes between African airports is also key to overcoming the challenges. “During Dakar’s aerodrome certification process, we welcomed experts from other airports in the region, which encourages collaboration and learning from each-other’s experiences,” explained Kebe. “Many issues faced by African airports are common and sharing best practices can save us time and resources,” she added.

While industry associations have undertaken various actions such as ACI’s airport excellence (APEX) programme, which actively supports Africa’s airport sector in raising the bar on aviation safety and security, Sene points out that the continent’s airport community now needs “strong support from its governments to better understand and consider the economic potential of airports in developing countries going forward”.

Concluding that airports have become businesses in their own right and have to excel in a full range of activities, Gittens highlights that safety and security remain “top priorities” and airports are urged to embrace risk-based safety and security concepts, advanced technologies and process innovation in order to tackle the challenges. But most important is the call for collaboration.

As Kebe rightly summed up: “We can only succeed if we work together, making sure we do not leave any airport behind.” (africanaerospace), photo: AIBD)

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