The growth of the low-cost airline sector in Africa faces several fundamental issues that threaten to block access to cheap flights for much of the continent's population.

That is the warning from African Airlines Association secretary general Elijah Chingosho, speaking at the IATA annual general meeting in Cape Town.

"Africa is a huge continent but also the poorest and the surface infrastructure is poor, so there is a need for low-cost carriers," says Chingosho. "But there are one or two major problems for their development: the cost of doing business in Africa, because governments levy very high taxes on airlines and on fuel; and the limited penetration of credit cards and internet use in Africa."

Chingosho says for airlines in most regions of the world, the cost of fuel is typically around 30-35% of operating costs, but in Africa it is 45-55%, because of the high charges. Efforts have been made to persuade governments and oil companies to reduce costs with some success, but more needs to be done.

The payment issue could be overcome by new technology to use mobile phones for charging, which is now being adopted in some African countries.

"Another problem is the lack of secondary airports for low-cost airlines to serve where the charges are much lower, like they do in Europe. In Africa very few major cities have secondary airports, and where they do have they are very inconvenient and the charges are very similar to main airports," Chingosho says.

AFRAA and IATA are lobbying airports to change pricing policies and governments to reduce charges. "We publish some of the charges so that the airports can see how unfavourable they are and we are expecting some announcements [about reductions] any time soon," he adds.

Source: Flight Daily News