Of Open Skies for Africa

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African states have met severally to allow an open sky policy, such that the continent’s airlines are shielded from impediments that hamper them from operating from one country to another in the region, but so far this plan has been strewn with hurdles, writes Chinedu Eze

The European Union enjoys a certain level of open sky, whereby an airline can fly to many destinations across countries in the continent. Although individual countries like the UK have their peculiar immigration regulations; that if you have Schengen visa you may not fly to the UK, but many countries in the region allow seamless flights from one city to another.
This promotes easy movement of individuals among the member nations; it saves the airlines the usual scarce resources and promotes tourism and other businesses from one country to another.

Yamoussoukro Decision
The Yamoussoukro Declaration signed in 1999 called for liberalisation of African skies for African airlines, aimed to establish a single African air transport market by avoiding market restrictions imposed by bilateral air service agreements or immigration hindrances. So far, many nations in Africa are yet to embrace this policy and the implementation of this policy is believed to be the gateway to creating strong airlines in Africa that would contribute significantly to the Gross Domestic Product of many countries in the continent.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) after conducting a research came to the conclusion that implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision (Declaration) will transform intra-African air connectivity. The report was done by independent economic consultants, Inter VISTAS. It outlined the benefits that would accrue if 12 African nations were to implement the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision.

IATA explained that the Yamoussoukro Decision committed 44 signatory countries to deregulating air services and to opening regional air markets to transnational competition. The implementation of this agreement, however, has been slow, and the benefits have not been realised.

IATA also said the additional services generated by intra- African liberalisation between just 12 key markets will provide an extra 155,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in annual GDP. This would also include a potential five million passengers a year, which presently are being denied the chance to travel between these markets because of unnecessary restrictions on establishing air routes.

IATA noted that aviation already supports 6.9 million jobs and more than $80 billion in GDP across Africa. The InterVISTAS research demonstrates that liberalisation would create opportunities for further significant employment growth and economic development. The jobs and GDP impact for the 12 countries in the study are listed in the table below.

Nation Additional Employment Additional GDP (USD millions)
Algeria 11,100 123.6
Angola 15,300 137.1
Egypt 11,300 114.2
Ethiopia 14,800 59.8
Ghana 9,500 46.8
Kenya 15,900 76.9
Namibia 10,600 94.2
Nigeria 17,400 128.2
Senegal 8,000 40.5
South Africa 14,500 283.9
Tunisia 8,100 113.7
Uganda 18,600 77.6

About two years ago in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Aviation experts from all over Africa and beyond 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).
The 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.

Implementation
IATA Vice-President, Africa, Raphael Kuchi, told THISDAY recently in Cancun, Mexico that the open sky policy was about to be implemented by some countries in Africa; but some declined from participating.
“There are some countries which have said they don’t think they are ready and you cannot force a country to be ready to embrace open sky. For instance, Angola is a typical example, they said they are still restructuring their airline and when their airline is ready to compete they will open up. So until then you cannot say they are resisting, they have given you a reason why they are not doing it now. But on Yamoussoukro, I am sure last year I mentioned to you that some progress has been made and we should always not think that nothing is moving, there is some trust, albeit on a bilateral basis, now what we want to see is multilateral arrangement, that all countries and all operators in the country and the continent can benefit from,” Kuchi said.

However, Kuchi said about 21 countries are ready to ratify and embrace the Yamoussoukro Declaration.
“As we speak, we have 21 countries of the 54 countries in Africa that have said they are prepared to open up their market to other African carriers. Now, the thing is for the AU and its agencies to fast track the processes of actually actualising this. You know it is one thing for states to say, I want to open up, but what is the process? What do I need to do to show that I have opened up? If I have opened up and an airline wants to fly into my country what should that airline do? Should it just get one day and start flying there, at least there should be some minimum requirement,” he said.

On whether the open sky for Africa policy would work, travel expert, Ikechi Uko told THISDAY on Monday that he believes it would work if the countries that already have airlines begin to implement the policy, then other would join with time.
“I believe it is workable. A coalition of willing countries that have airlines can start it, say Kenya Airways, South Africa Airways, Ethiopia Airlines and others. They can do something like Star Alliance, which initially people were reluctant to join but later others realised that the alliance has so much benefit but by then it has become difficult to join because you have to meet strict conditions. They code-share with their members and partner with their members and are reluctant to partner with non-members; so they protect their market and are reluctant to open that market to non-members.

“So the 21 countries that have signified interest in the open sky policy will make it work. It does not need AU endorsement. They should go for visa on arrival, which will make it easier for passengers to travel. These 21 countries should open their borders,” Uko added.
He noted that Africa Airlines Association (AFRAA), African Union and IATA are looking forward to the implementation of the policy so the 21 countries that have endorsed the kick-off of the policy should fix a date the implementation would start.

Uko however express regret that while Nigeria endorsed the open sky policy, Nigerian airlines seem not to want it.
“However, only two countries have opened their countries fully and that is Ghana and Rwanda. If seven more countries open their airspace that way there would be a remarkable change. Nigerian airlines will benefit more from the policy because their saying that they are not ready is a fallacy. There is a huge market for the Nigerian airlines to dominate and that market is West and Central African market,” Uko said.

Dominance by Foreign Airlines
This policy was expected to kick-off this year but only the aforementioned 21 countries have expressed their readiness.
The experts who deliberated over the policy noted that the 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, introduction of 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 enhance 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.

Apprehension
On the fears being expressed in some quarters by some countries and some airlines in the region that opening the skies would 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 added.