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The abrupt departure of yet another senior member of the leadership team of South African Airways (SAA) is a stark reminder of the serious management crisis at Africa's largest airline. In recent years, SAA seems to have been operating a revolving-door management policy with top executives coming and going at an alarming rate.

Air Afrique, the pioneering multinational airline launched in 1961, has ceased operations completely after being officially declared bankrupt on 7 February this year. The big question now is whether each member country of Air Afrique may try to establish their own airline to provide essential domestic and external air services. The recent launch of Air Senegal International, a joint venture with Royal Air Maroc, indicates a new trend in this direction. 

South African Airways, Africa’s largest carrier, is in danger of being knocked off course by the uproar over its controversial former Chief Executive Officer, Coleman Andrews. According to Public Enterprises Minister, Jeff Radebe: “It has now become clear that since 1998 there has been a systematic erosion of corporate governance at SAA.” The serious allegations levelled against Andrews by the Government of South Africa have called into question the soundness of the airline’s fundamental business strategy.

Ten years ago we embarked on a bold mission to promote the airline industry in Africa. This was predicated on our belief that aviation can be vital catalyst for Africa’s economic and social development.

Air safety is back in the international spotlight following the recent spate of accidents around the world - from Switzerland, to Côte d’Ivoire, to the USA. In Africa the loss of a Kenya Airways Airbus A310-300ER just after take-off from Abidjan airport in January, and an EgyptAir Boeing 767-300ER shortly after take-off from New York, last October, have proved particularly traumatic due to the large loss of lives involved. Until the official investigations are completed, it would be wrong to allocate blame for either of these accidents. 

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) is about to introduce perhaps the most liberal regional air transport regime ever attempted in Africa. This bold initiative has profound implications for existing airlines in the 21 member states of COMESA.

President Bill Clinton’s ‘Safe Skies for Africa’ initiative provides a unique window of opportunity to mobilise the significant political will and financial resources required to properly address some of the pressing challenges facing the African aviation industry. It is unique because never before has a United States President made such a direct commitment to help improve African aviation. 

Thirty years after its formation the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) is still determinedly championing the interests of African airlines. While successive AFRAA airline Chief Executives have come and gone, many of the problems facing the continent’s carriers have doggedly remained, with several new challenges emerging.

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