Taking Off – Airport development should be a priority for Africa

Harare – Efficient, functional and state-of-the-art airports that are easily accessible are increasingly important if Africa is to attract and retain corporations with national, regional and global ties – as well as talented people.

An airport is a gateway to a city. If the airport works, it becomes easy and pleasurable to visit the metropolis of countries across the continent for business or pleasure. And when it does not … some may not come back.
The importance of airports as global business hubs is now globally recognised. In some parts of the world, entire cities or at least fully functioning suburbs (with office space, industrial buildings, and residential and retail districts) are being built around airports in a phenomenon known as the aerotropolis.
Even without being an aerotropolis, a city’s airport gives the first and last impression  since it facilitates face-to-face communication, strikingly important to generating innovation.
Furthermore, state-of-the-art airports can allow global companies to establish operations in multiple African cities and have certain managers and executives move seamlessly between locations.
Consequently, Africa must seriously develop its airport infrastructure networks and maximise revenue income.
Meanwhile, city halls and business leaders rarely have much control over airport operations – which are typically controlled by independent commissions that report to regional or federal bodies. This should change if the continent is to transform socially, politically, technologically and economically.
Also, further development of airports should be one of the key priorities of African governments.
South Africa’s Deputy Transport Minister Sindisiwe Chikunga believes that the goal of governments should be to develop airport infrastructure that would be a catalyst to economic growth, job creation and poverty eradication.
She said the development should be integrated if African countries are going to quickly realise the benefits of having good airport infrastructures.
“The development of airports should not happen in isolation, but should be integrated into all national, provincial and local economic and spatial development initiatives,” she said.
Therefore, it is the responsibility of African governments to be committed and to critically work on aviation policies that enhance the development and maintenance of airport infrastructures in the continent.
Chikunga explains, “Such policy commitment should be supported by tangible plans and scientific evidence, and should be monitored to ensure that we do not miss our targets.”
Significant strides should also be made to develop airport infrastructure. Sustained investment in aviation infrastructure is crucial to the continuing growth of commercial aviation. This means that airport authorities around the continent should invest in large capital projects, including new or improved runways, terminal expansions, and entirely new airports. These investments can significantly increase airport capacity.
More so, African leaders should develop operationally efficient and commercially optimised capacity plans for airports to ensure cost effective and fit for purpose airport infrastructure.
Africa’s utmost duty therefore should be to put African people to work – build state-of-the-art airports.
“Our greatest primary task is to put people to work, this is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously,” Chikunga said.
Ministries of transport and infrastructural development in countries within the continent should work on programmes that focus on aerotropolis concepts aimed to provide opportunities for the development of an integrated public transport system, urban regeneration and consolidation of Africa’s economy.
Partnerships between the airports companies in Africa, development partners, responsible ministries and policy makers should be cemented to make sure that the continent benefits from its airport development plans.
The key to efficient aviation policy is to create a system that serves the local and connecting passengers well. Ultimately, this policy should be crafted and religiously implemented. Without doubt, airports are critical to the development of Africa. Therefore, leaders should build new airports, develop them and refurbish existing ones.


May 2013
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