Thomas Perkins, the chief executive of NavPass, spoke with Njiraini Muchira about the region’s aviation challenges and how governments could collect more money.
Apart from the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, what challenges face the aviation industry in East Africa?
One is fee collection, which is integral to keeping the skies in East Africa safe. There is bureaucracy in collecting fees, and looking at new ways to collect them.
There are multiple government organisations, usually the civil aviation authority and revenue authorities, involved in the identification, monitoring and collection of fees.
The establishment of modern sovereign airspace in the EAC remains a significant challenge as well. Countries like South Sudan are still in the process of establishing their flight information region which means that they are currently unable to track who is flying in their airspace.
Not only does this mean collecting overflight fees is impossible, but it means that the civil aviation authority does not have the budget generated through navigation fees to increase the safety of the skies.
The use of airspace by non-IATA members is another significant challenge. It is a complex and cumbersome process to invoice and collect fees from non-members, who usually fall under the brackets of private or foreign government-owned planes.
What are overflight fees?
After World War II, the International Civil Aviation Organisation was created by the UN to help regulate airspace and keep it safe. They created two formulas to help fund air traffic control systems.
The first was through fuel taxes, which the US uses. All other countries chose the second option — overflight fees — in which an aircraft is charged for passing through sovereign airspace. It is a similar concept to toll roads.
The fees is primarily used to pay for air traffic control safety and systems, staff and their training. However, many countries, including all in the EAC, have still not found an effective method to collect these tolls. This means government funds have to be used instead.
How much do countries lose from uncollected overflight fees?
We estimate that regional governments lose between $96 million and $168 million of potential revenue from uncollected overflight fees annually.
This is primarily because of a reliance on manual processes. There are no employees whose specific role is to collect the fees. The responsibility to track the flight paths usually lies with air traffic controllers. However, they are more focused on guiding aircraft safely than collecting data.
Adopting technology could result in EAC countries increasing fees collection from $127 million currently to $295 million over three years.
What methods do regional governments use currently?
After an aircraft passes through a country’s airspace, the data is entered into a spreadsheet manually.
At the end of the month, the spreadsheet is passed on to the airlines for recovery of the fees owed. This can be done via e-mail or an agent who tracks down the aircraft owners.
How can regional governments improve collection of these fees?
By adopting cloud-based e-commerce technology, similar to when many African countries jumped straight to mobile past traditional and expensive computers.
The same thing can happen with navigation fee collections.