African countries that signed an open skies treaty will meet in Togo this week to review the progress made in abolishing restrictive bilateral air safety agreements (Basas) among them.
The May 25 meeting will be the first since the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) in Addis Ababa in January.
Twenty five countries, including East African aviation leaders Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda adopted the long-awaited continental open skies pact which guarantees a 25 per cent drop in airfares once implemented.
The Fourth Meeting of the Ministerial Working Group in Togo will specifically review the status of key measures needed to ensure a single African sky operates effectively and facilitate the harmonisation of air service agreements among countries. Countries have been restricting their air services markets to protect their national carriers.
The African Union Commission is also expected to share the competition and consumer protection regulations of the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision — named after the Ivorian city in which 44 signatory countries agreed to liberalise their air transport markets.
“We hope to see the existing Basas among member states of the SAATM reviewed to remove any restrictions to ensure conformity with the Yamoussoukro Decision,” reads a note from the AU.
Signatory countries will also be expected to sign a memorandum of understanding on the harmonisation of Basas and implementation of the SAATM.
Another memorandum on co-operation between the African Civil Aviation Policy which is the executing agency and all regional economic blocs, including the East African Community will also be signed.
It is expected that once operational, the open skies will give the continent’s big four carriers — Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, RwandAir and South African Airlines — unfettered access and multiple destinations to any city of countries under the arrangement as part of the AU’s move to improve connectivity and integrate African countries.
This initiative is expected to fully liberalise air transport markets in Africa by offering lower fares, better connectivity and increasing demand.
The AU expects that as the single aviation market goes into full operation, the intra-African market will operate without the need for Basas.
However, implementing the open sky agreement in the region is bound to be complicated as Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi are yet to sign it.
The three countries have raised issues to do with competition within their markets and how this would hamper plans for their national airlines.
Tanzania and Uganda have recently been propping up their national airlines and changing policies to allow for the entry of bigger players to support their national carriers.
A source familiar with the plans told The EastAfrican that the two EAC partners are still discussing the matter, hence the reason they are yet to sign up to the single air market initiative.
The AU is banking on these three EAC countries and 12 others to join the SAATM by the next summit at the end of June to start of July, when Heads of state attend a status progress meeting in Nouakchott, Mauritania.
It is expected that the 25 signatories to the single air market initiative will have abolished restrictive clauses in their bilateral air agreements by this date.
In March, a meeting of the aviation industry consultants held in Ivory Coast sought to establish a joint action plan for 2018/2019 for the implementation of the single air market for Africa.
Under the plan, the AU is pushing to ensure countries fully implement the key measures needed for the open sky to operate effectively; resources are mobilised and that the capacity of the African Civil Aviation Commission is strengthened to effectively perform its functions.
The AU is also seeking technical assistance for member states to improve the level of aviation safety and security to meet the minimum global requirements.
It is expected that the African Development Bank and other partners will play a key role in providing the resources to implement the joint air transport market.