Africa on the runway to seamless airspace
The dream of achieving low airfare in Africa may soon be realised should the African Union’s plans run full course.
The bloc expects to launch its Single African Air Transport Market at the end of this month in Ethiopia.
According to the AU, 23 regional countries have committed to the cause whose full implementation will see, among other benefits, the cost of air travel drop by more than 25 per cent.
AU chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat in his New Year message said SAATM will be launched on the margins of the African Union Summit to be held between January 22-29 this year.
Efforts to have African countries open up a common airspace has been frustrated by States that want to protect their weak airlines from competition, raising debate on whether this will be achieved.
Ministers of Infrastructure from Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) in a report last year October said some countries have been reluctant to embrace full implementation of a seamless airspace as it will expose their airlines to stiff competition.
“Implementation has been hampered by reluctance by States that claim to have weak airlines to embrace full implementation as their airlines cannot compete,” said the report in part.
The African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) is spearheading the creation of a seamless airspace in Africa.
Kenya is among the countries that have signed commitment to the implementation of the common airspace.
Regional countries have been trying to create a seamless airline since 1999 to no avail due to lack of enforcement mechanisms and domestication of agreements by States.
East African Community states, with an exception of Tanzania and Burundi, have been pushing for the formation of a common airspace in the past.
The four countries: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan were to negotiate air service agreements with foreign countries as one bloc.
The greatest benefit was expected to come from the classification of flights between the four countries as domestic airlines whenever they fly to each of the member states.
Rwanda in December 2016 signed a deal with Uganda and South Sudan to establish a legal framework for talks that were expected to see local airlines attaining what is technically known as fifth freedom rights along Juba-Nairobi, Nairobi-Juba routes.
In aviation, fifth freedom rights mean an airline is allowed to ferry passengers from one country to another and from that country to a third country.