Travel barriers holding back Africa aviation’s post-Covid recovery- IATA

By Moses Sserwanga

in Doha ,Qatar

The IATA Africa Middle East Regional Vice -President Mr.Kamil Alawadhi has highlighted three strategic areas that will accelerate the recovery of the aviation industry in Africa following a three -year devastating Covid 19 pandemic . Mr. Kamil Alawadhi said there is need to quickly remove all barriers to travel, clear blocked airlines funds now standing at USD 1.6bn and ensure operational safety for the aviation industry in Africa to get back to its pre-covid bearings .

But he hastened to note that the IATA highlighted recovery priority areas will not possibly be achieved by 2023 if only 15% of Africa’s population is  fully vaccinated. “With more countries lifting travel restrictions for those vaccinated, the freedom of movement will be limited until vaccines are universally available,” Mr. Alawadhi explained adding that where governments have not restricted travel, the passenger business recovery has been swift.

He was addressing the African and Middle East Media personalities -ahead of the the 78th IATA Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit now taking place in Doha, Qatar, 19-21 June 2022 and hosted by Qatar Airways. Some 1,000 aviation leaders from IATA member airlines, governments, industry stakeholders, strategic partners and members of the media are attending the event. 

“While most countries in Africa and the Middle East have opened up and eased travel restrictions, we’re still seeing unnecessary travel barriers in some countries in the region,” the IATA AME Vice President noted .

With low vaccination rates across Africa, the continent and its people are vulnerable and the economic recovery from COVID-19 is at risk. Moreover, with more countries lifting travel restrictions for those vaccinated, the freedom of movement will be limited until vaccines are universally available. With only15% of Africa’s population fully vaccinated, the challenge is particularly acute.

He also questioned the continued disparity in measures by different governments -where for instance Equitorial Guinea and Sierra Leone still requiring PCR tests even for vaccinated travelers and Cameroon, Rwanda, Angola and Liberia requiring two PCRs one before travel and one arrival.

In the Middle East there is a disparity in vaccine validity. “Some countries ask for a 4 four month vaccine validity, some nine and some in between. The number of doses also varies. Between. In view of the limited global supply of vaccines the WHO has said that booster jabs should not be a requirement for international travel.”

On the issue of blocked funds Mr. Alawadhi said IATA was moving strongly to urge government to release the blocked funds for airlines to free up resources that can boost the quick recovery of the industry in Africa where operators are struggling due to limited or no access to their operation revenues . Blocked funds refer to the money that airlines have difficulties repatriating from certain because of government foreign exchange controls.

“A financially viable air transport sector supports jobs and must be a driving force for Africa and the Middle East economic recovery from COVID-19.

A priority is releasing blocked funds. As of April, globally, there is a total $1.6 billion in funds blocked by 20 countries worldwide.  Of this, 67% is blocked in Africa for a total of $1 billion, tied up in 12 African countries.  Nigeria alone is holding back $450 million. It is the most amount blocked by any single African country, and the amount is rising every week,” Alawadhi regretted to note stressing that- cash flow is key for airlines’ business sustainability – when airlines are unable to repatriate their funds, it severely impedes their operations and limits the number of markets they can serve.

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Writer is a media and communications consultant And Advocate of the High Court of Uganda

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