By Friday Nwosu
The Director in charge of Benin Air Transport Regulation Civil Aviation, Nathalie Houndeton, has called for more efforts at integrating the continent’s airspace to facilitate trade and movements of persons in Africa.
She made the call during the official launch of RwandAir’s flights to Cotonou in Benin on Friday.
According to her, the need to improve the infrastructure and reduce the cost of conducting aviation business in Africa cannot be overemphasized.
Also, Francis Agbado, the Managing Director FourTrust Ltd Benin, said more connectivity on the continent will further reduce the cost of doing business in Africa.
“This will eventually translate into more economic growth and development on the continent,” he said.
Earlier in his address, Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of RwandAir, Jean Paul Nyirubutama said the airline will relentlessly continue opening new destination to facilitate the ease of doing business and movement across Africa and beyond
He said the idea is to facilitate ease of travelling across the continent but also to be part of the process to integrate the continent economically.
According to Nyirubutama, the national flag carrier’s efforts to expand its wings to the whole of Africa and beyond is designed to unlock business opportunities and to facilitate integration process across Africa.
According to atqnews.com, AU said in 1999, African countries committed themselves to curb aviation taxes and offer qualifying airlines entry rights in order to reduce ticket prices, increase traffic and improve safety, through the Yamoussoukro Accord and later decision.
Almost 20 years, later many countries still restrict services in their airspace with a view to shielding local carriers which didn’t succeed as most national carriers with the exception of Ethiopia Airlines, Kenya Airways and South Africa Airways, cannot be said to have realised their potential.
That African airlines account for no more than a fifth of the aviation traffic of the continent speaks volumes on the folly of such policies; airlines from outside Africa and nationals of other continents who are given visa concessions in the name of tourism are the beneficiaries.
Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands are good examples of countries that were bold enough to turn their backs on market restrictions after finding that in most cases they did not achieve the result desired.
New investments in aviation infrastructure have been a notable dividend and Africa would do well to pay heed. With African countries struggling to raise money for investments across various sectors, opening up restrictions on movement of people and their means of travel would attract new capital.
China is already working to conclude a continental financing plan for African airports in due course but the appeal to investors may be undermined by low volumes at most facilities.
At risk would be the eight million jobs the sector supports in Africa as well in its contribution to economies, which stood at $81 billion in 2014.
The main reason why closed airspace and visa restrictions do not yield results is that they are so vulnerable to retaliation by other countries. While Rwanda is working to remove visa requirements for African nationals, for instance, it has said that only for countries that extend the gesture to its own nationals.
Implied here is that Rwanda has thrown down the gauntlet for other African countries to push the integration agenda forward, this time through deeds rather than words. And they do not have much choice or time.
A Continental Free Trade Area that is high on the Africa Union agenda is supposed to come into operation next year. It is unlikely to succeed without freer, faster and cheaper access to market.