African airlines seek unrestricted airspace in Africa

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Heads of African airlines meeting in Nairobi have warned that the continued application of stiff licensing rules by governments against continental airlines was slowing down trade, tourism and job-creation opportunities.

African airlines are losing passengers to foreign airlines because most states fear competition from regional carriers and are unwilling to open up their skies for continental fliers, the aviation executives observed, and urged African governments to enact fair competition protocols.

Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive, Girma Wake lamented at the opening session Tuesday that Africa would continue to lose its passengers to mega-carriers from Europe and the Middle East unless governments act timely to save the airlines from a series of trade barriers, which include visa restrictions.

“We all need our governments to support us, but it is not good for the country. If we push for our country’s protection, it would eventually hurt our countries. We should start creating open skies,” Girma told delegates at an aviation finance conference here.

In a speech during the opening of the 16th annual African Aviation Finance Conference Tuesday November 20th in Nairobi, Girma warned that Africa will continue to lose a wide margin of its travellers to the European and Gulf state carriers, thus undermining the survival of African carriers.

African airlines currently transport 25% of all travellers leaving and coming to the continent while 75% of the passengers use European airlines, he said.

Girma said the dominance of the European carriers will rise to 80% of the traffic, leaving the continent with little or no money to buy new aircraft.

“Eventually, Africa will continue to lose and the cost of transport in Africa will continue to grow and our economies will lose,” Girma lamented.

Just five African airlines are among the top 50 airlines in Africa, transporting 75% of the passengers.

Wake said Africa is becoming a major economic powerhouse and many more countries are finding oil, a development that has made the continent more attractive to foreign airlines.

He cited the lack of integrated air transport policy for Africa as one of the reasons why most countries have been unwilling to grant air transport agreements to other airlines.

“This is really not an excuse. There is lack of competition rules in Africa. We need a ruling to fair competition. That the Yamoussoukro protocol would lead to the disappearance of their airlines,” he however said.

The Ethiopian airlines chief said although minimum protection was necessary; the over-protection of the African airlines is bad for the people.

“It makes the protected airlines weaker and makes services worse. Restricted airlines movements means that the countries would not move forward, they are saying the country does not need trade, tourism,” Girma said.

Meanwhile, Director-General Chris Kuto of Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) believes that many African states still feared liberalising the continent’s airspace would lead to the disappearance of their airlines.

“They fear licensing more airlines to operate within their airspace will neutralise them, but they should know that there are more benefits when you open up. We are failing to see the incremental benefits of opening up,” Kuto said.

In remarks, Nigeria’s Air Transport Minister Felix Hyat has praised Africa’s unprecedented aviation growth, saying it underlined the continent’s growing economic prosperity.

“The astronomical growth in the sector has posed a major challenge to the continent in funding aviation infrastructural development,” Hyat noted.

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