Interview: What is the Way Forward for Africa’s Airport Sector

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We speak to Jonathan Norman, a renown aviation expert currently working as Head of Business Development at Aviapro Consulting. We discuss the current state of Africa’s Airport infrastructure and the way forward.

Briefly tell us about your background and how you find yourself in your current position today as a respected aviation expert.

Well, I’ve been in the aviation industry since i was very young. I started flying at the age of 15, got my private pilot license at 18 and my Commercial Pilot license at 21. I then pursued my Aerospace Engineering degree at the Metropolitan University of Denver and completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Management Systems. I flew charter and organ transportation for the Birmingham Hospital under part 135, and then went to the airlines and airport business for a few years. I spent almost 8 years outside Aviation building my corporate career, and I found myself leading global business investments for US and Latin American companies. I gained a lot of knowledge in international business and trading and became acquainted with Asian and North American markets.

After that experience, I joined Frost & Sullivan and had the opportunity to implement my business skills in the aerospace industry. I was blessed with my superiors and my team, which allowed me to grow and get promoted to Global Head of Airports and Airlines. Today I find myself at AviaPro Consulting Inc., based in Toronto. In my role of Head of business development, I am conducting business in a more technical way since AviaPro’s main strength is their outstanding capacity to deploy anywhere in the world and have one of the most robust SME’s networks I know.

Today my focus is to support airports and airlines on developing their business beyond the operational standpoint, and Africa along with Asia are our primary focus markets.

In terms of my personal work, I try to focus on what really matters, which is my customers.  I attempt to provide creative but realistic solutions to keep improving their business. My success is a direct result of my clients’ satisfaction; I feel blessed with the clients I’ve been working with, and in most cases, we become friends or very close collaborators after the projects are finished.”

Africa makes up less than 3% of the global air transport market. How do you view Africa’s airport infrastructure vs the rest of the world?

“Africa is without doubt one of the most beautiful continents in the world, and in terms of aviation the most underdeveloped region. But the challenges that Africa has are more regarding policies and regulations than anything else. It is very hard to plan ahead and have clear game rules in Africa, and that can discourage investment groups in developing infrastructure or companies on the continent.

There’s been some penetration on the LCC business model, and Ethiopian Airlines has been doing an outstanding job in the last 10 years. Hopefully this will bring traction, and more airlines will start to operate in the same manner.

When you analyze the African airlines and airports, they are still relying on old business models and air service development strategies, rather than coming up with realistic solutions that make sense not only to the airline but also to the people and the country. It is very hard to establish profitable long-haul routes or networks if you don’t have a robust regional network and partnerships to support passenger feeding to the international routes. The continent lags in regional connectivity and is hard to move at a domestic stage.

On the airport side there’s been some improvement, but Africa can further develop the airport business model concept and effectively integrate it. The airport is the main gateway and first impression of any city, but it needs to be supported by an integrated development plan and have coordinated investments with the city to further develop the market. Also, IT plays a huge role in airport operations, and there’s sometimes a misconception that IT solutions come with a hefty price tag, while the reality is that they are in the business to either expand revenue or lower costs. Besides that, it is very easy to work with new IT companies because they look for market penetration and they are very flexible on their client approach.”

How would you narrow down the main challenges that Africa’s airports need to tackle in order to take the next step in facilitating the growth of the continent’s aviation sector?

“Airports need to change their business model and embrace technology just like other parts of the world. They need to not only provide airline services, but also become a business and service center for communities. There’s been a late tendency to develop entertainment facilities near airports, and these brings much business to the area, and add value to the airport supply chain.

Beyond entertainment, investment in training facilities or MRO infrastructure can be developed. It is already proven that this brought much success to South Africa and Ethiopia.”

As we emerge from the covid crisis, how can airports in Africa reposition themselves and transform their business models for post pandemic recovery and growth

“Firstly, understand the challenges and needs of their cities and countries, and then engage their governments and civil aviation authorities to develop a strategic plan that aligns and contributes to every stakeholder objective. It is crucial to understand the type of airport that you are, and the one you want to become. We all want wide bodies and one hundred gates terminals, but the reality is that geography is the main factor that determines your business potential and not all airports can become hubs, at least not in the beginning. An airport can be a cargo airport, have a domestic network, a regional network, be a focus city airport, a secondary low-cost airport, a regional hub or a large hub. Determine the airport potential and aim for the business that produces revenue and benefits the communities, do not attempt to pursue opportunities for which you don’t have the infrastructure or demand needed.”

Thank you for your time, If you have any salient points to add, please feel free to do so

“I’m anxious to go back to Africa this year, and anyone who wants to talk airplanes or airports feel free to ping me at my email or through LinkedIn, I always enjoy a good aviation conversation!”

You can connect with Jonathan Norman via Linkedin by clicking HERE

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