Why EAC must open its skies

Kenya Airways planes at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. FILE PHOTO | NMG

There has been a lot of commentaries about the recent stalemate between the Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAs) of Kenya and Tanzania. Aviation is a specialist industry and most folks are not privy to what it takes for movements to seamless take place in the airspace between two nations. There must be an Air Transport Agreement.

This could be a bilateral or a multilateral agreement to allow international commercial air transport services between signatories.

The bilateral system has its basis under the Chicago Convention and associated multilateral treaties. Such agreements provide the basis for airlines of the countries involved to provide international air services for passengers, cargo and mail. Whilst the underlying principle for Air Service Agreements is reciprocity, pro-competitiveness must take center-stage.

Procompetitive legislation is the law that intends to prevent market distortion caused by anti-competitive policies on the part of businesses. Procompetitive legislation or competition law ensures free-market capitalism by monitoring anti-competitive practices. Is protectionism at play in the current impasse? Is Kenya Airways trying to be a referee in a game it is also participating in?

African Civil Aviation Authority (AFCAC) is the African Union’s specialised agency for all civil aviation matters on the African continent and the Executing Agency of the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) and Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).

On the other hand, the African Airlines Association, (Afraa), is a trade association of African airlines. The primary purpose of Afraa is to establish and facilitate cooperation between African airlines. The common mission of both organisations is to facilitate cooperation and coordination among African States towards the development of integrated and sustainable air transport systems. Are they both asleep?

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement targets to create the largest free trade area in the world measured by the number of countries participating. Its success will connect 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) valued at US$3.4 trillion.

It has the potential to lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty, but achieving its full potential will depend on putting in place significant policy reforms and trade facilitation measures. This essentially means that African nations need to open their Skies in order to improve on intra-African trade and achieve the foregoing potential impact.

More developed economies have already embraced Open Skies Policies and have better trade per capita statistics. The EU–US Open Skies Agreement between the European Union and the United States allows any airlines from the two parties to fly between any point in the EU and the US.

It is important to note that the EU started as European Economic Community (EEC). Will the East African Community (EAC) ever grow into a union status? Kenya and Tanzania are both signatories of various international trade treaties in Africa.

One would then wonder why an act of war like shutting down airways and suspending traffic right between the two neighbours would emanate from. The economic impact is immense let alone the inconvenience of higher passenger fares, longer routes-to-market for airfreight and jeopardized air connectivity indices.

Uganda recently took Kenya to the East African Court of Justice after Nairobi denied the neighbouring country's government-owned oil marketer a license to operate locally, and handle fuel imports headed to Kampala. Is this a path towards regional disintegration since if the EAC partners cannot enhance the ease of doing business and reduce the cost of the same thereof, then functional regionalism will stagnate?

There can never be any economic growth and development, when traditional and international trade routes are deliberately closed.

Open skies are the vogue in more developed economies with higher global value chains (supply chains) since that is the value proposition for the airfreight business in particular and in the aviation industry in general. We need to end the current stalemate with firm diplomatic handshakes and embrace strategic open skies policies within the EAC. Let’s grow up.

The writer is Trade, Logistics & Supply Chain Consultant, Leverage Consulting.

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