Africa’s quest to achieve open skies is increasingly becoming a pipe dream as countries move to protect their airlines. This is despite efforts by different agencies to create a seamless airspace.
With open skies plan now a distant dream, passengers will continue to pay heavily for air ticket as countries move to protect their airspace in order to cushion their local carriers from competition.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says protection of national airlines is the reason Africa airfares are sky-high
Kenya and Tanzania are the latest countries to deny other airlines the rights to fly to a third country other than their hub in what appears to be a deliberate move to protect their domestic carriers.
Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) in a gazette notice December last year failed to grant permission to Saudi Arabian Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines who had sought permission to vary their licences.
Saudi Airlines wanted variation of its existing licence to include the routes Jeddah/Nairobi/Maastricht and Jeddah/Nairobi/Liege. However, this request was not granted.
On the other hand, Ethiopian Airlines, the fiercest competitor of the Kenya Airways, wanted variation of its existing air service licence to include aircraft type B737F, a request which was also denied.
KCAA Director General Gilbert Kibe could not reveal the reasons why the carriers were denied permission, only saying “that is a regulator’s decision and I cannot comment on it.”
In Tanzania, the country’s aviation regulator has denied low budget carrier Fastjet permit to re-introduce flights to the country.
The decision to turn down Fastjet’s application was reached last year by the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority board last year December.
The low-cost carrier had been operating in Tanzania before it was liquidated last year after failing to meet its debt obligation.
Before its collapse, the airline had been offering low prices and perhaps its presence would have impacted negatively on the earnings of the recently revived air Tanzania.
In an interview with Shipping& Logistics, recently, regional vice president of IATA for Africa and the Middle East, Muhammad Ali Albakri said the reason why air tickets have remained high in Africa is because of lack of a common airspace.
Mr Albakri urged African countries to fast-track the agreements that have been signed before, and which are aimed at introducing a single airspace to enable passengers enjoy the benefits of reduced cost of travel. “Cost of air travel remains high in Africa because of lack of open skies as each country tries to protect their airlines. This eventually affects the passengers,” said Mr Albakri.
African nations, Mr Albakri noted, are hurting their economies by protecting their national carriers with reluctance in implementing open skies policy.
“With open skies policy, it means that more airlines will fly and the cost of air ticket will be affordable. This means that countries’ economies will benefit from this,” he said.
In 1988, a number of African countries came together with a view of creating an open airspace for ease of movement and boost trade on the continent in what was called Yamoussoukro Declaration.
In 2000, the decision was endorsed by heads of state and government at the Organisation of African Unity, — now African Union— and became fully binding in 2002.
However, to date, not much has been done in regard to adoption of the open skies policy by member states as 14 nations have not ratified the treaty.
African nations are protecting their airlines from stiff competition, putting in doubt whether the dream of open skies policy will be achieved.