Pictured: Ram Menen, the divisional senior vice president of Emirates Airlines

During Air Cargo Africa 2013, the second biennial international air cargo conference and expo in Africa, Simon Foulds had the opportunity to interview Ram Menen, the divisional senior vice president of Emirates Airlines, about the state of the air cargo industry in Africa.

Menen is one of the founder members of the Emirates Airline and has headed its cargo division since its inception in October 1985.

According to him, the air cargo industry in Africa faces a number of hurdles, of which regulatory issues is the biggest one.

“The biggest issue is accessing the major markets within Africa. For the industry to expand on this continent, we need the various regulatory authorities to open up and liberalise the air so more trade can take place,” says Menen.

“Another problem we face is that cargo tends to be directional, with cargo going in one direction and nothing coming back, so the cost of providing a country with that particular service becomes extremely expensive. However, if air cargo was given more freedom to be able reposition flights to be a more flexible to pick up cargo then costs would come down due to flights having return loads.

“Our challenge is that a large part of cargo is carried under the belly of commercial flights and because a number of countries turn down the rights for passenger traffic in order to protect their own national carriers, by default cargo is unable to be delivered to that particular country. What we would like is for countries to separate the two where airlines can maintain cargo rights without infringing on the passenger rights of a countries national airline. It is short sighted, but this is the way certain African countries operate.

“Every country likes to be an export-driven country and the very fact that certain countries close offthis capacity defeats this object. At the end of the day you might save a few dollars for the national airline, but in the long run the country loses millions of dollars in business.”

Menen says this is just one of the issues which The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) are lobbying governments in Africa to address.

One aspect of the industry that Menen says he is proud of having been associated with was the forming of the Global Air Cargo Advisory Group, which has brought together the Global Shippers Forum,  the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA), IATA and TIACA, allowing them all to speak as one voice in lobbying governments on the continent.

“Prior to this there was a lot of animosity between freight forwarders, airlines and shippers, but once we realised that we all share common problems, the various industries were able to work together as one voice in lobbying governments.”

Menen believes once African governments start opening the airspaces there will be a marked increase in intra-Africa trade, especially among landlocked countries.

As for the future growth of the African air cargo market into the rest of the world, Menen believes this will come from routes into China and India being expanded over the next five to ten years.

Cargo at airports

Asked about the capacity for airports to expand cargo areas, Menen states the problem with most airports is that they concentrate on passenger traffic more than cargo, turning airports into shopping malls. He adds in most cases cargo facilities are more of an afterthought and then the owners try and make the cargo facilities operate more efficiently and they struggle.

“I believe if airports do not have good cargo facilities then it restricts the growth of the city where it is situated. Also, if you go and spend money on building airports and have a restrictive market access policy then you do not have aeroplanes on the ground and your infrastructure becomes a white elephant.”