Liberalisation of airspace in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) should expedited to boost regional trade and promote air travel.
According to Dr Abu sufian Dafalla, the COMESA director for infrastructure and logistics, aviation is an essential life-line to intra-African trade and sustainable economic development in the trade bloc, and the continent generally.
“It is therefore imperative for COMESA members to fast-track the process of establishing legal, regulatory and institutional regional framework to guide the open skies initiative in the region to boost connectivity and trade across the region,” he said.
He encouraged governments to form partnerships, saying bilateral engagements are the primary tools that will help improve the continent’s aviation industry.
He called for the establishment of a uniform civil aviation policy, legal and regulatory framework on the continent, arguing that such a move is crucial to ensure sustainable development of the industry. Dafalla was speaking during a two-day COMESA consultative meeting on navigation, surveillance, air traffic management legal and regulatory framework in Kigali on Tuesday.
“Enabling aircraft navigate seamless will boost airline business on the continent. we therefore need to setup the base on cross-border airspace navigations to facilitate movement and trade,” he said.
He called on governments to invest heavily in aviation infrastructure and skills development to support the industry.
COMESA has put in place a steering committee to establish how members can harmonise their airspace to ease air travel, cut costs and hence boost economic growth in the region.
The committee, chaired by Rwanda, is reviewing terms of reference on how the project can be implemented. However, sector players say the project that started in 2014 is taking long, costing airliners.
The project will cost $10 million (about Rwf8 billion); and the African Development Bank (AfDB) has already committed Rwf10 billion toward the project, according to Dafalla.
The International Civil Aviation Organisation has already urged members to upgrade and harmonise their terrestrial systems used for communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management to ensure safety and efficiency.
The organisation’s contracting states have, for instance, agreed to gradually replace ground based systems with satellite support systems.
Industry experts say though terrestrial systems have been used worldwide for over 50 years, they have increasingly failed to cope with the growing volumes of air traffic and are being progressively replaced by the more cost-effective satellite-based systems.
Dr Alexis Nzahabwanimana, the State Minister for Transport, said COMESA’s commitment towards building a more sustainable air transport will result into a more robust economic development in the region.
“Flying in Africa is still expensive compared to other regions globally,” Nzahabwanimana said.
He noted that harmonisation of airspace in the COMESA bloc, and collaboration between members are essential to drive the benefits for the aviation industry on the continent. He however said airlines must ensure safety and improve services to be competitive and profitable.
According to the minister, improving efficiency and safety are key components that will strengthen the realisation of seamless airspace and navigation services in the COMESA, and on the continent generally.
“The need to improve infrastructure and services in the COMESA region should be done in line with international and global standards,” he warned.
In 2006, member states resolved to implement these initiatives as a region through a regional project called the COMESA airspace integration project which is being coordinated by the COMESA Secretariat.
During the Djibouti summit, Heads of State and government also established a steering committee comprising seven member states to supervise the implementation of the project.
Rwanda was nominated the lead country to champion the project implementation as chairperson of the steering committee.