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Protectionism hampers Africa open skies drive

Ethiopian Airlines aeroplane at the Jomo Kenyatta International in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Ethiopian Airlines aeroplane at the Jomo Kenyatta International in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Efforts to have African countries open up a common airspace has been frustrated by States that want to protect their weak airlines from competition.

Ministers of Infrastructure from Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) in a report this month noted that some countries have been reluctant to embrace full implementation of a seamless airspace as it will expose their airlines to stiff competition.

The ministers also pointed out lack of political goodwill to live up to the commitment of full implementation of the liberalisation programme as a hindrance to the region achieving a common airspace as required by Comesa.

“Implementation has been hampered by reluctance by States that claim to have weak airlines to embrace full implementation as their airlines cannot compete,” says the report in part.

The legal notice is the regulatory guiding instrument on the licensing of operators, ownership and control of airlines.

In addition, the notice provides for granting of traffic rights to designated operators and service frequencies between cities in Comesa.

The African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) is spearheading the creation of a single air transport market in Africa under which 15 African Union members, including Kenya, have signed the commitment to the Implementation of the single African Air Transport Market.

Most African countries have been protecting their ailing airlines through financial support and protection from foreign airlines in order to guard their territory. Ethiopian Airlines and RwandAir get full government funding.

Kenya Airways and South African Airways have recently been seeking financial support from the government to remain in business.

Regional States have been trying to create a seamless airline since 1999 but they have not been able to come up with one due to lack of enforcement mechanism and domestication of agreements by States.

The region received Sh1 billion from the African Development Bank in 2014, as a sponsorship for the airspace integration project that will enable countries to share data and exchange information.