Former director of CAA in Lebanon (twice), Dr Hamdi Chaouk (pictured), now managing partner, Aviation Minds, opened the second day of the first Aviation Africa conference and exhibition in Dubai by explaining how African nations need to take a close look at themselves before they can put together an aviation strategy that has any chance of success.
“My first experience of aviation was in 2003 when I was interrogated for 12 days and put into jail as I’d accepted a plane from Africa to fly to Beirut from Benin and it crashed,” he said.
“I learned later really there was a big problem in Africa. After that, as a member of the ICAO Council, I asked them 'What are you doing for Africa?'.”
Since then Chaouk said that he had done a lot of work with African countries to help them develop their aviation strategies, looking at “factors that determine the success of liberalization, how to succeed with it”.
He stressed that “liberalization is a must.”
He said the kind of questions that states need to ask before doing anything include:
- Why are most airlines not profitable?
- Why are only some airports making money?
- Which freedom is appropriate for me and why?
- Why might airline interest conflict with the state interest (citizens) and which one should have priority if this happened?
- Unproductive political environment and corruption are detrimental to aviation progress. What to do?
He also asked why Dubai has succeeded while many others have failed and whether this success be replicated.
“You don’t have to [replicate Dubai] – but certainly you can learn from it a lot,” he said.
Strategically there are three levels – state, industry and corporate.
However, he said that “if the state strategy is not right it doesn’t matter what you do with your airlines and airports. So today we’re going to look at the state strategy side.”
His company did an in-depth study of 120 countries and found 14 policy scenarios out of 18 that were “theoretically possible.”
Many are failing totally, he asserted – “but why?” He said that it was essential to look at institutional governance (CAA), and liberalization (non/semi/full).
“We ended up with 54 States from around the world with validated data. We filtered the possible scenarios into six that resulted in successful outcomes.
“The first question is ask who you are and what your characteristics are, from education to political stability to innovation – 12 factors in total that are most closely linked to air transport.
“Looking at these, you can see inputs and outputs – passengers, contribution to GDP, aviation contribution to employment, and connectivity.
“We then did a statistical model to measure efficiency of states in using inputs to create highest output. This is all a scientifically-approved approach which led to the identification of 22 efficient countries (which he listed alphabetically on his presentation, from Canada to the UK),” he said.
The scenarios, SC1 to SC6, range from “Autonomous CAA, Semi-Liberalised, No Privatisation” to “Autonomous CAA, Full Liberlization, Full Privatisation.”
He illustrated this by reference to two case studies.
First Dubai, which came out as SC1, as it has no privatisation “yet it is still successful”.
But, he noted, Dubai invested in other factors “and this is why it is succeeding”. Countries have to see which scenario they are closest to, he advised.
Second, he gave the example of Lebanon, the circular ‘web’ diagram/curve of factors showing low on political stability/security but good on health and primary education, for example.
In Lebanon, when Chaouk had the CAA job he tried to open up the skies completely, saying “without it there is no way to succeed”.
The ministers refused, saying it would destroy MEA, Lebanon’s struggling national airline.
“It had a monopoly and was making losses for 30 years. We solved the problems of the airline and gave them $200 million and went full open skies.”
He said it was the only way that the market response could be positive – and he was proved right.
“Traffic growth went to double digits six months later. But in 2005-6 it plunged because of the shooting of the Prime Minister and bombings,” he said, but it came back in 2009.
“But the new minister said he wanted to close the sky again,” he said, even though 16 airlines had been given rights.
MEA had a bigger slice of the cake, but they did it anyway – “This is what happens when your politicians don’t understand what is best for the country,” he added.
So What About Africa?
Chaouk then turned to Africa: “For Africa, the African Union and AFCAC should develop a strategy that works for Africa,” Chaouk said.
He said CAAs should lead partnerships with airlines and airport and be autonomous, and skies should be liberalized “without premature boundary constraints”.
He also said that all related ministries should support the common goal, and that Africans should be trained to lead the change.