African skies meet in Cairo
For the Egyptian organisers, hosting the Routes Regional Africa provided more than just commercial advantages, Amirah Ibrahim reports
Fifty-six international airports competed at the Routes Regional Africa (RRA) forum to attract more than 20 airlines to their facilities. Cairo Airport Company (CAC) hosted the three-day fair, 27-29 May, which brought together African, European and Middle Eastern companies.
The RRA was organised by the Routes Development Group (RDG) and hosted by Egyptian Holding Company for Airports and Air navigation (EHCAAN). RDG specialises in working at the interface between airports and airlines, promising to make a major economic difference to those airports and to the regions and countries in which they are located.
"RRA has two key elements -- formal networking and informal networking," said EHCAAN Chairman Ibrahim Manaa. "The first is where African regional airports and airlines delegates meet to discuss new market opportunities at pre-scheduled face-to-face meetings. The second is where the forum encourages all delegates to network as much as possible. This is facilitated through as extra meetings system and the hospitality programme."
The forum also hosted a conference entitled "Developing African Aviation" which had four sessions: tourism, investing in African aviation, low-cost carriers development, and developing cargo and freight traffic at African airports.
According to Manaa, the attending airport delegates have responsibility for business development especially for their airlines route network. "They should be able to discuss the market potential of their airport and ideally be able to support any proposed new route with specific data relative to their market. Airlines should be open to discussing new market opportunities with airports and be prepared to advise airports on what support and market information may be required."
The hosting airport, Cairo International, however seeks more than attracting business, with expansion plans which include constructing a new terminal building increasing capacity from nine million to 20 million passengers per annum. "To benefit from such forum is not a one-step process," explained Fathi Fathallah, CAC chairman. "Last year we participated at the World Routes Forum in Copenhagen but we have just reached agreements with airlines that we started negotiations with last year. No airport or airline makes instant deals but the meeting offers the chance to reach the deals that both parties seek; airlines and airports."
Fathallah indicated that his company is negotiating with three airlines to launch new services from Cairo airports but refused to release their names. "We have to study their requests and determine how we would facilitate their operation. We also have to coordinate their demands with the national carrier's rights and whether they would prefer a code share or another formula."
An important plus from organising the African event is that it allows Egypt to qualify to host the World Routes Forum in 2010. Another benefit according to Fathallah was to advertise Cairo airport's new terminal building TB3, due to start operation by mid-2008. "Both chairmen of the African Aviation Organisation and the WTO highlighted the importance of Cairo International as a main hub for Africa and the Middle East considering the developing plans of its facilities," he explained. "They also admired the development plans which helped make the airport 'Africa's Best Airport 2006', and which should give Egypt a larger share of world tourism."
Beside the hosting airport, the company operating 19 Egyptian airports participated in the event. Two years ago, the French management company Aeroport de Paris (ADP) took over five main tourist airports. According to Pastid Patrice, ADP Executive manager, his company has targeted Middle Eastern and European airlines more than those of Africa. "We run five tourist airports in Sharm El-Sheikh, Hurghada, Luxor, Aswan and Abu Simbel. Those airports are mainly operated by charter airlines from Europe and the Middle East. African countries have already operational agreements with the national carrier to operate to the capital airport, and the African market does not have as much tourist potential as Egypt." Patrice indicated that his company was targeting British, Italian and Far East markets.
The African Routes Forum was preceded by a seminar organised in Cairo by the Airport Council International (ACI) on air services development. The two-day seminar aimed to provide participants with an introduction to new marketing strategies and an update on the requirements and expectations of both network and low-cost carriers.
"Over the two days, we worked on marketing strategies and how to align the operational structure and infrastructure to the targeted type of passengers and air carriers," explained Maamoune Chakira, ACI regional secretary. "Experts of the Airports Strategy and Marketing meeting focussed on updating the participants on the requirements and expectations of both the network and low-cost carriers in term of developing new air services and extending existing ones," he added.