Aviation Experts Insist On Open Skies for Africa

Aviation experts from all over Africa and beyond have declared that for air transport to grow and for African airlines to benefit from passenger traffic in the continent, African states must implement the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD), which is the opening up of Africa airspace for African airlines, a Declaration initiated in 1998 and ratified by countries in the region in 1999.

Aviation stakeholders in the continent said African airlines have to work together and this would be enhanced by the open skies treaty in order to curb the incursion of non-African mega carriers from the Gulf states, Europe and the US, which presently have 80 per cent of the market, while African airlines only have 20 per cent of the traffic in the region, down from 60 per cent control about 20 years ago.

Unfortunately many African countries have refused to implement this agreement; as only 11 out of 54 counties have complied with implementation scheduled to begin in 2017.

The experts noted that these international carriers that erode the African air traffic market employed less than one per cent of Africans in their airlines, but if the region’s airlines are empowered through government’s support, they would employ thousands of people in the continent as they strive to dominate their region in intercontinental travel.

Among the government’s support the experts crave for are the lowering of taxes, introducing stricter measures to stop multiple entry of international carriers to African nations, removing bottlenecks in the supply of aviation fuel and reducing the charges on the product so that airlines can buy cheaper fuel from the continent. They also want government to facilitate credit facility for airlines in the continent through single digit, long term loans and assist in manpower development for the acquisition of technical skills in the industry.

This was part of the deliberation at the on-going 24th Airline Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) Africa Conference and Exhibition taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and organised by African Aviation Services Limited.

The CEO of African Aviation and former Secretary-General of African Airlines Association, Nick Fadugba, said African governments must open the skies in the continent for indigenous African airlines to gain market access and free entry and exit of these airlines.

“We wish African governments will create the enabling environment for African airlines to flourish. The European Union opened the continent’s skies for European airlines; the African Union should do the same for African carriers. In other continents of the world there is vibrant air transport industry, except in Africa.

On the fears being harboured in some quarters by some countries and some airlines in the region that opening the skies will enable established African carriers to stifle newly established airlines, the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines, Tewolde Gebremariam dismissed the fear and described it as perceived fears instead of real ones, noting that today non-African airlines have 80 per cent of the traffic of the intercontinental air travel from the continent; yet the region gains nothing from the domination of these mega carriers. But if African airlines are empowered, it would be a catalyst for economic development of the continent, create thousands of jobs in each country and also enhance movement of people from one part of the continent to another.

“Twenty years ago the combined African airlines market was more than 60 per cent of the intercontinental traffic between Africa and the rest of the world. Back then there were airlines as big as Air Afrique, Ghana Airways, Nigeria Airways, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) owned airline. The DRC today doesn’t have an airline, but the DRC then had an airline operating more than 30 jet airplanes. They all died because there is no support from their governments. They were not able to fly to their neighbouring countries as much as they did at that time; 20 years later. We are not able to fly freely to a neighbouring country,” the Ethiopian CEO said.

Gebremariam said that before the regional airline, Asky was established in West Africa; it was difficult to travel from one country to the nearest one by air, so a traveller who wished to travel to Togo from Ivory Coast would have to go to Paris first, from there he would connect flight to Togo.

“This has to stop and the only way it can stop and save our brothers and sisters the hardship of travelling to north and back to south is to open the markets in Africa. Today the 60 per cent market that we had in intercontinental traffic 20 years ago is down only 20 per cent. How many people do the foreign airlines that fly to your country, employ from that country? 10 to 20 people, maximum, but if you have your national airline in Nigeria, it is going to employ thousands of Nigerians. This is as much as Kenya Airways does in Kenya; as much as Ethiopian Airlines does in Ethiopia. So job creation for Africans is also at stake,” Gebremariam said.

The Ethiopian Airline CEO urged governments in Africa to create enabling environment for indigenous airlines to thrive.

“When I said enabling environment it means a lot, starting from governments in Africa having to treat their national carriers as strategic assets, as policy instruments for economic development. This is because aviation, air connectivity, air mobility are a critical economic growth drivers and also essential public service. In a continent where other modes of transport are still underdeveloped whether rail or road, the only way for people to connect is by air,” Gebremariam also said.