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East Africa may implement open skies within region to drive aviation

by Atqnews
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The recently concluded 7th Northern Corridor Integration Project Summit, image009came out with some far reaching objectives which Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and to a certain extent South Sudan, want to do something about quickly.

One that must have captured the interest of airline operators is a decision for the relevant transport ministers to meet with the main agenda being helping to reduce the cost of air travel in the region.  Kenya will be hosting this gathering and the ministers are expected to report back to the next Summit.

Entry of low cost carriers (LCCs) in the East African skies is good news. Ticket prices will likely begin falling as competition intensifies. Given a choice, most business people and traders would prefer going by air to save time. But fares are not low enough to allow  for choice.

This can be given a boost if the regional governments agree to adopt the Open Skies policy where all compete on the same level or in one sky instead of four or five which can help slash overheads.

Put very simply Open Skies means two or more countries allowing unrestricted overflight and landing rights to one another. It means no more government regulation and masses of paperwork except in situations stipulated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Understandably, reaching an agreement on this sensitive issue may prove difficult. We have been weaned in the absolute supremacy of the State, despite lip service to liberalisation and the free market.Several African countries restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers.  Governments who have big stakes in national carriers may view Open Skies with much suspicion.

This practice originated in the early 1960s when many newly-independent African states created national airlines, in part, to assert their status as nations. It also carried much prestige. Now, however, most have recognized that the strict regulatory protection that sustains such carriers, has detrimental effects of air safety records, while also inflating air fares and dampening air traffic growth.

Indeed, three decades ago, African governments did agree that they must free the skies in order to reap efficiencies. Their agreement might not sound so surprising when one remembers this was an interlude when many African national airlines were on the point of total collapse. Continued subsidies was no longer feasible, if not downright foolish.

In 1999 they adopted the Yamoussoukro Decision, named for the Ivorian city in which it was agreed. At the time some 44 countries agreed to deregulate air services, and promote regional air markets. This was a follow-up of the Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1988, in which many of the same countries agreed to the basic principles of air services liberalization. In 2000, the Decision was endorsed by head of states and governments at the Organization of African Unity, and became fully binding in 2002 when the African Union had come into being.

Since then, across Africa, it has been a case of everyone for themselves. The situation is more striking today, because of those national airlines that were flying 14 years ago, less than 5% are still in existence.

Africa is home to 12% of the world’s people, but it accounts for less than 1% of the global air service market. Critics say  many  of our airports charge too highly which is the first turn-off.  Yet we need as many flight connections as possible. The more planes coming and going means exporters of perishable products can negotiate for better rates.

Discoveries of oil and gas is attracting much foreign interest, but if intra-EAC trade is to be sustained the governments have to scale back the heavy hand that hovers over civil aviation.

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