Tunisia is betting on smart airports to boost economy

Tunisian authorities announced details of strategic plans to turn the country’s airports into smart entities, a move officials are betting on to increase the number of foreign visitors to the country.

Officials are convinced the tourism sector is of vital importance for the faltering local economy and its development must be accelerated to strengthen the Central Bank of Tunisia’s reserves of hard currency.

Ghassen Mahfoudhi, president of the Tunisian Association of Aeronautical Information Administrators, said, at the opening of the 12th International Aviation Information Association meeting in Tunis, that Tunisia issued international tenders in preparation for the digitisation of airports.

Mahfoudhi said it was about “buying an advanced digital system and moving from a system of service of aviation information to managing aviation information.” He did not divulge the cost of the project.

Air transport experts said smart airports will revolutionise the way passengers are moved as governments allocate larger budgets to expand airports and support their infrastructure with state-of-the-art technology.

Through “Smart Tunisia 2020,” the Tunisian government is seeking to accelerate the development of airports, ports and transport infrastructure to enhance the business climate and drive growth from the portal of the tourism industry.

Resorting to smart solutions will enhance passenger comfort and help the Tunisian Civil Aviation and Airports Authority (OACA) reduce costs by about 25%, officials said.

Transport Minister Hichem Ben Ahmed said Tunisia “had developed a flexible aeronautical information management plan for air traffic management that reduces operational costs and environmental effects while improving access to airspace.”

He explained that the safety of air transport is an absolute priority of the government and all Tunisian airports were to be equipped with modern technological systems, in addition to training workers on using digital tools.

Studies indicate that about 80% of airports around the world will invest in wireless signal systems and other technology in the next few years, allowing passengers to expect safer flights.

Tunisia aspires to keep abreast of international developments in this area. The Convention on Open Skies necessitates the adaptation of new technology in the aviation sector.

Despite controversy over the pace of reforms, there appears to be an exceptional determination by the Tunisian Ministry of Transport to implement requirements of the Convention on International Civil Aviation and include their provisions in domestic regulations, as well as the implementation of principles governing civil aviation activities in general.

Some say the idea of ​​moving to smart airports, following the principle of sustainable development and any environmental orientation that meets the needs of future generations, requires huge investment that would attract more visitors.

The tourism industry contributes about 8% of Tunisia’s GDP and is one of the most important sectors because it provides the largest number of jobs after the agricultural sector. Data indicate that 400,000 people work in the sector.

The government hopes the Open Skies Agreement will increase the number of passengers through Tunisia’s eight airports to about 20 million in the next decade. Data from the OACA at Tunisian airports show a rise of 7.14%, compared to the previous year, in the number of passengers in 2018 to 8.3 million.

Two years ago, OACA developed, with French mobile phone operator Orange, a smart phone application that provides instant data about all flights in all of Tunisia’s airports.

Last year, the government announced a strategy to develop the tourism industry through the rehabilitation of 124 hotel units and began the first phase of the expansion of Tunis Carthage International Airport to accommodate more visitors.

To implement the development plan, the government placed high hopes on the appointment of a new minister of tourism during the latest cabinet reshuffle. Indeed, the appointment of Rene Trabelsi as minister of tourism created a media buzz because he is the second Tunisian of the Jewish faith to hold a ministerial portfolio since the country’s independence in 1956.

Economists said that the tourism sector has become the only exception to changing Tunisia’s economic equation, following leaps in revenues since the terrorist attacks in the country in 2015. The stability of the security situation since 2016 encouraged the sector to boom and it is on its way to recovery thanks to the reform policy, which the government hopes will affect other sectors.