AFRAA's annual general assembly in Maputo, hosted by LAM Mozambique Airlines, has just come to a close and I'm left questioning whether this is the "same old, same old" or whether change could be glinting on the savannah horizon.
All the regular issues were all there: safety, foreign carrier invasion, slow progress on liberalisation and the need for greater intra-African co-operation. But that last issue - the need for co-operation among African airlines - was the talk of the conference, both formally and informally. "Less talk, more action" was the phrase of the day.
And we did see some action. Nigerian Eagle (formerly Virgin Nigeria) and Ethiopian Airways signed a codeshare deal, building on a recent agreement between Nigerian Eagle and Kenya Airways. There was also early inklings that AFRAA might be looking to set up some sort of Arabesque-style partnership scheme. Meanwhile, LAM Mozambique is joining the co-operation throng, with South African Express registering an interest in its forthcoming privatisation.
Then there's ASKY, a Togolese start-up which is part-owned by Ethiopian Airways, and Tanzania's Precision Air, in which Kenya Airways has a 49% stake. These last two are not new, but they are moves in the right direction towards big carriers teaming up with their smaller siblings.
The idea is this. African carriers are being "attacked" by Middle East and European Airlines. And now it's not just on long-haul. Emirates is getting involved in the new Senegal Airlines and Air Arabia has Air Arabia Maroc. As the cake gets divided and eaten, the African carriers continue to bicker among themselves. "We have already missed the boat," said one delegate.
Along the way we had some colourful analogies. Big African airlines were equated to lions and smaller carriers became antelopes. The suggestion was that they should be transformed into big lions and smaller lions, as part of one pride aiming for survival. "But then what will we eat?" was the retort.
Maybe new blood is the answer to boost co-operation. African aviation journalist and consultant Nick Fadugba (pictured below, right) has been named as the new AFRAA secretary general, replacing Christian Folly-Kossi (below, left) who has held the role for a decade.
I referred to this on Twitter (#AFRAA) as a "surprise, but obvious" selection. "Surprise" because Nick has never been an airline chief executive, but "obvious" because Nick knows the African aviation industry inside out from a realist's perspective. He has a huge network of contacts and is an exemplary diplomat. Fadugba will be backed by new AFRAA president Girma Wake, who is an industry veteran and chief executive of Ethiopian Airlines.
But all this good work was undermined by one of the administrative sessions. The task was simple: to agree on the wording for a co-operation resolution. But the question of which airline co-operation examples should be cited gave rise to the most heated debate of the conference. In the end, the decision was deferred. It was beyond irony.
Maybe the glimmer is nothing more than the mirage of the boat which has already left.
Check out the January edition of Airline Business for my formal write-up of the AFRAA AGA.