Simon Calder: Airlines horrified by plan for 'Africa levy'

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The Independent Online

The G8's plan to use airline passengers to solve Africa's problems appeals to those who like to squeeze the rich until the pips squeak.

The G8's plan to use airline passengers to solve Africa's problems appeals to those who like to squeeze the rich until the pips squeak.

Compared with fares of hundreds of dollars, the proposed $1 levy on airline tickets to fund aid for Africa appears trivial. In an inequitable world, who could argue against redistributing wealth from those with plenty to those on the brink of starvation?

The well-fed airline and aircraft manufacturing executives gathering for the Paris Air Show, for a start. They are horrified at the prospect of a levy. In Europe, competition between airlines is so fierce that margins are wafer-thin: $1 a passenger is often the difference between profit and loss.

The proposed levy on air travellers could also heighten the erroneous perception that all of Africa is a disaster zone, with the subtle implication that tourism there would be immoral.

One place where the levy would have little effect on air travellers is Africa: fares are so absurdly high that hardly anyone flies, and services on many routes that should have lots of traffic are minimal or non-existent. Between Cairo and Lagos, the economic powerhouses of north and west Africa, are two non-stop flights a week. The fastest way to travel between Harare and Accra is via Gatwick.

Africa is a complete disaster area in only one sense: aviation. Governments' restrictions to shore up failing national carriers have done the people of Africa a gross disservice. In a large continent with poor surface infrastructure, aviation should be the solution, not the problem.

What Africa deserves more than fundraising concerts or debt cancellation is low-cost, pan-African airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair. Workers and their families would become more mobile, tourism and business travel would boom, and intra-African trade would thrive. What Africa needs is not Geldof, but Stelios.

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