The African Business Aviation Association is working hard to open the continent up to the far-reaching possibilities of business aviation
Launched in May 2012 ‘to represent the interests of Africa’s aircraft owners, operators, and suppliers to the business aviation community in a single voice’, the African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA) is holding its first ever African Business Aviation conference and exhibition (AfBAC EXPO) at ExecuJet Africa’s Lanseria International Airport FBO between 29 November and 1 December. Inevitably modest in size compared to the better established business aviation shows, AfBAC EXPO will nonetheless offer visitors a one-day conference on 29 November, followed by a two-day exhibition and static display. And with up to 16 hours of workshops available, and ExecuJet showcasing several of the 50 or so aircraft it offers for charter from its South African facility, visitors are unlikely to be disappointed.
Since 2012, AfBAA’s membership of ten founding organisations has grown to around 120, including large corporate and international companies. Among them, they offer services ranging from FBO, charter brokerage and aircraft sales, to operations and MRO, ground handling and more. From the outset the intention was to support the industry as a whole, especially since business aviation is still relatively immature in Africa and in need of infrastructure improvement.
Real signs of progress from AfBAA’s point of view include the launch of a training committee, a major focus for the region. Traditionally, Africans who can afford to go abroad for their education tend to take jobs abroad, leaving the continent short of skilled workers. It’s a problem exacerbated in sub-Saharan Africa, trained individuals tending to migrate to other regions where salaries might be orders of magnitude higher.
Security and safety, for passengers, crew and aircraft are the focus of another committee, as the growing association has identified the important areas on which its attention should be focussed. Both committees have made tangible progress, but on a much larger scale the AfBAA is promoting business aviation as a valuable capability to African industry, in a region where it tends to be inaccurately linked only to governments and VVIP flying. Efforts are continuing to educate civil aviation authorities and governments themselves, showing them business aviation as a facilitator that generates further business.
Conferences and events are important for bringing AfBAA members together and spreading the word among other local players. At the association’s regional symposium in 2015, for example, African Union representatives recognised the need to look beyond the airlines and towards business aviation. With four regional symposiums and a conference behind it, AfBAA launched AfBAC EXPO at this year’s EBACE and plans it as an annual event.
Promoting business aviation to an African audience is but once aspect of the challenge, however. For the industry to have real effect, operators and passengers flying into Africa need guarantees that their persons and assets will receive safe passage. There are real security and regulatory concerns, but these by no means apply to all 54 of Africa’s countries. The most active areas, including Angola, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and South Africa, have particularly focussed on safety, while AfBAA has nurtured programmes that educate crews in dealing with security crises on the ground.
Yet infrastructure and MRO facilities are still lacking. Decent runways are scarce over much of the continent and where they do exist, lighting and basic facilities may at best be unreliable and at worst missing. In terms of MRO, the African business aircraft fleet includes many airframes coming up for two or three-year checks, work that will mostly take them out of Africa for lack of facilities.
Gathering statistics and hard data on African operations and aircraft ownership is a particular challenge. A look at Nigeria, for which reasonably accurate figures do exist, reveals around 165 operational jets, of which only one is on the national register. Operators tend to avoid local registry because it may cause insurance premiums to inflate and render financing difficult to arrange, leaving much still to do.
For the future, AfBAA is working to encourage business aviation into and within the continent. Eight out of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are in Africa and their prosperity encourages external business. Those visitors need to travel internally, for which the continent’s convoluted airline networks are less than ideal, leaving huge scope for private aviation. In many ways, the tradition of bush flying, reaching otherwise inaccessible regions by rugged piston-engined or turboprop aircraft, is likely to merge into business aviation; indeed, turboprops are finding a ready market in a somewhat blurred bush/business scenario.
Look back two decades and Africa’s skies were populated by a preponderance of older aircraft, typically withdrawn from Western fleets and soldiering on with dubious airworthiness. That situation is already changing, with the popularity of modern turboprops where accessibility is an issue, and jets. In Nigeria, for example, operators that acquired smaller equipment, maybe Learjets, just a few years ago, are now progressing onto Challengers and even Global Express-type aircraft. The African business aviation landscape is changing. It has a huge journey yet to travel, but at least it is walking in the right direction, at pace, and no longer crawling.