Aviation industry players have called for the implementation of the planned open airspace along the Northern Corridor states, arguing that the delay has increased the cost of air travel in the region.
The East African Community (EAC) Northern Corridor member countries agreed to open their airspaces effective January 1. The members include Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan.
EAC is one of the regions with high air travel charges, which is partly blamed on closed airspaces, among others.
During the last Heads of State summit in Kigali, Northern Corridor members signed an agreement to liberalise their airspaces, giving regional airlines, like RwandAir and Kenya Airways, the fifth freedom to operate without any limitations along the corridor.
The deal was in effect giving regional airlines the right to operate as local carriers across the Northern Corridor states without any restrictions.
Industry players say the delay to fully implement the project has continued to affect competitiveness of the region. They want EAC governments to hasten the process, and bring Tanzania on board. Tanzania is currently not part of the Northern Corridor initiatives.
Sector players argue that Tanzania is a strong player that cannot be left out of the deal, saying its presence will further boost the industry and make it more competitive, according to John Mirenge, the RwandAir chief executive officer.
Mirenge said the delay to liberalise the EAC airspace is, not only costing the industry, but also passengers who have to pay high airfares.
“This means that the airline business is still costly to run and non-competitive… With these challenges, airlines have no option but to charge high air transport fares for passengers travelling within the region,” Mirenge noted.
He was speaking during a meeting between the Ministry of East Africa Community Affairs and private sector in Kigali on Tuesday.
Pauline Kariuki, the Kenya Airways and Air France-KLM country manager, said a liberalised regional airspace is key for the growth of regional aviation industry.
Project on course
However, Monique Mukaruliza, Rwanda’s co-ordinator for the Northern Corridor integration projects, said the agreement on fifth freedom is already operational on some routes.
She said partner states are currently studying some areas of the agreement, including issues of capacity building, joint air crash investigations, and search and rescue, before it is fully implemented.
“So far, the Kigali- Entebbe-Nairobi and Entebbe-Nairobi routes are being operated under the fifth right arrangement,” Mukaruliza said in an interview with this publication.
Negotiations with Tanzania on
Speaking at the event, Amb Valentine Rugwabiza, the Minister for East African Community Affairs, said the Rwandan government is working with other members to ensure that the project is implemented fully, but warned that it may take time to get Tanzania on board.
“However, we recognise the importance of opening EAC airspace besides helping reduce the cost of doing business across the region. However, we have to understand that opening of airspace takes time…
Negotiations with Tanzania are ongoing, but we need to be patient before we can get all partner states on board,” Rugwabiza said.
Rugwabiza said the issue of airspace liberalisation and construction of the central corridor railway line are priority for 2016.