Effects of closed airspace on Africa
Posted Saturday, March 4 2017 at 12:58
- While African governments were busy blocking or restricting their airspaces from each other, they remained generous with non-African carriers. As such, nearly 80 per cent of African air traffic is served by these carriers.
While making his opening remarks at the just concluded Africa Aviation 2017 conference in Kigali, President Paul Kagame threw his weight behind the Africa Open Skies policy.
But he wasn’t just lending a voice to a cause that’s been much talked about — with little progress made towards its achievement — by African states, Kagame was also letting his peers know that his government was actively working with others who are willing to liberalise African airspace.
The highlight of his opening address was when he asked why an African travelling to another country within the continent should transit outside the continent, a question that left many policy makers hanging their heads in shame.
The issue is not new. In 1988, an aviation meeting of African states in Cote d'Ivoire came up with the much talked about Yamoussoukro Declaration.
Ten years later, in 1999, nothing much had happened except for the commitment of 44 signatory countries to deregulate air services, and promote regional air markets open to transnational competition.
In January 2015, under the auspices of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, African governments gave their solemn commitment towards the establishment of a single African air transport market by 2017.
The Yamoussoukro Declaration remains largely on paper, except for a few countries that agreed bilaterally to implement it.
What does open skies mean? And who closed the skies in the first place?
Simply put, it is an international regulatory framework to promote air services by allowing unrestricted traffic rights between treaty partners.
So essentially, country A will enter a bilateral air services agreement with country B with clear stipulations of the designated carrier(s), airports to be served, frequencies per week, and in some cases seats allocated and fares to be charged.
As most of Africa was just gaining Independence in the 1960s, many countries launched national carriers not only to assert their newfound Independence but also as symbols of national pride.
Since most of these newly established carriers were not motivated by economic motives or intra-Africa connectivity, they embarked on restricting their air services market to protect these symbols of national pride.
The irony here is that while African governments were busy blocking or restricting their airspaces from each other, they remained very generous with non-African carriers. As such, nearly 80 per cent of African air traffic is still carried by non-African lines.
These freedoms of the air or privilege to carry passengers and cargo between territories are globally restrictive by nature.