African skies to open next year

14 July 2017 | Local News

The launch is imminent of Africa's first single air transport market and an initiative to connect the continent through aviation to boost tourism, economic growth and development.

At the moment 20 countries have subscribed to the programme that include South Africa, Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

The initiative is seen to be a game-changer for growth prospects in the continent as current air-transport in Africa is on average twice as expensive as in the rest of the world and it is estimated that over 40 countries will have signed by January 2018.

According to the head of the transport and tourism division at the African Union, David Kajange, Africa has become the most expensive air transport market in the world because of individual national policies and regulations, which hinder air connectivity.

The initiative is not the first one.

The single African air transport market forms part of an Open Skies for Africa vision, envisioned in the 1980s.

It culminated in the adoption of the Yamoussoukro Decision of African heads of state in November 1999.

The Yamoussoukro Decision, which was signed by 44 heads of state in 1999, including Namibia, was supposed to be a continental liberalisation programme, but the quest for many African governments to protect weak national airlines had largely prevented its implementation.

The AU realised it was going to be very difficult to have all 44 countries wake up one day and say “all of our markets are open”, therefore the AU civil aviation decided to get countries immediately willing to open their markets to sign the declaration.

A single air transport market is one of the goals of AU's Agenda 2063.

The agenda hopes to connect the whole of Africa through aviation to achieve integration and boost intra-Africa trade.

It aims at opening up heavily protected domestic sectors to increase competition, reduce costs and boost the number of passengers travelling across African skies.

The announcement that African skies would open next year follows the release of a new tourism report that also critiques the initiative, saying there has been no progress made towards a single air transport market in Africa.



'Pipe dream'

Despite the economic benefits that would accrue from open skies, recently it has been described as a pipe dream.

Most states have failed to actually implement the agreement and protectionism still reigns supreme.

For some reason, national airlines continue to be seen as symbols of national pride in a way that few other services are, the report says.

Given the geographical shape of the continent, the reluctance of more than 70% of countries to become involved makes it difficult to create the liberalised sector that was originally envisaged.

As a result, African states are often better connected with other parts of the world than they are with each other.

“The damaging effects of the lack of air connectivity and the opportunities that air transport offers for regional integration have long been recognised by African governments, but opening up the skies has been a lengthy process,” the report says.

Air services between African states have been predominantly regulated on the basis of restrictive bilateral agreements.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said more jobs could be generated and additional economic growth could be achieved in Namibia if intra-African markets are opened up to allow for greater airline transport connectivity.

Raphael Kuuchi, vice-president for Africa at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said on the profound economic benefits of liberalisation for Africa.

“IATA's most recent study found that if Namibia and 11 other key African countries were to open their air transport markets, this would result in an extra 155 000 jobs being created and US$1.3 billion in additional annual GDP being generated for those country's economies.”

IATA's study looked at Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia and Uganda.

On Namibia alone, it found that market liberalisation would result in 10,600 additional jobs and US$94.2 million (roughly N$1.2 billion).

The report commissioned by IATA found that liberalisation would cause airfares to fall between 25% and 37% in the 12 countries, making air travel more affordable to more people, therefore stimulating an 81% increase in traffic flows between the 12 countries within three years.

The bulk of this growth would reportedly be on air services linking Namibia with Angola and South Africa.



Supportive

According to spokesperson of Air Namibia, Paul Nakawa, the impact of a single air transport market for Africa depends on the extent of the opening of the skies and also on the number of countries that will participate.

“It will not help much if only a handful of countries will participate and be a part of. The Namibian Government already subscribes to opening of the skies. This is seen from their decision to be signatory to the Yamoussoukro declaration.”

According him, if the skies were to open fully at same level as the European Union has done for their member states, it will be meaningful and will create opportunities for African airlines to be more productive. “We wait to see details on the extent of the opening and who will participate before we can respond with specifics. The Namibian market is quite small and not very attractive to many foreign airlines, but we have interest in those other bigger markets and we will position ourselves to develop the opportunity when it comes.”



ELLANIE SMIT

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