Shipping & Logistics

Africa open airspace dream yet to take off 30 years later

Kenya Airways
Kenya Airways plane. Hurdles stand in the way of proposed African open airspace. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

In 1988, a number of African countries came together with the view of creating an open airspace for ease of movement and boost trade on the continent in what was called Yamoussoukro Declaration.

In 2000, the decision was endorsed by heads of state and government at the Organisation of African Unity, — now African Union— and became fully binding in 2002.

However, to date, not much has been done in regard to adoption of the open skies policy by member states as 14 nations have not ratified the treaty.

On Tuesday 14 members, including Kenya, signed the Memorandum of Implementation (MoI) of the Yamoussoukro Decision by Signatory States on the establishment of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).

This comes at a time when African nations are protecting their airlines from stiff competition, putting in doubt whether the dream of open sky policy will be achieved.


Last week, Kenya refused to grant Ethiopian Airlines a new route in what was an apparent protection of Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ against one of the most successful airlines in the region.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) applied brakes on Ethiopian Airlines’ quest of getting a licence to operate scheduled passenger flights on the Johannesburg-Nairobi–Brussels route.

“KCAA denied Ethiopian Airline the licence it applied for,” said KCAA in an interview with Shipping last week.

KCAA's decision to deny Ethiopian Airlines a licence to operate on the Johannesburg-Nairobi–Brussels route comes five years after it declined to let the carrier operate cargo planes on the Addis Ababa-Nairobi-Johannesburg route.

The aviation regulator said the decision was informed by “several factors following extensive consultation with its board committee”.

Ethiopian Airlines is also said to be working to establish Malawi and Zambia as southern Africa hubs and opening up new routes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo Brazzaville and Chad.

According to the World Bank, Africa is home to 12 per cent of the world’s people, but it accounts for less than one per cent of the global air service market.

Part of the reason for Africa’s under-served status, according World Bank study, Open Skies for Africa – Implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision, is that many African countries restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers.

Yamoussoukro Decision calls for, among others full liberalisation of intra-African air transport services in terms of access, capacity, frequency, and tariffs; free exercise of first, second, third, fourth and fifth freedom rights for passengers; and freight air services by eligible airlines based on liberalised tariffs and fair competition

Fifth freedom in aviation allows a non-national carriers to land in a state and take on traffic coming from or destined for a third state.

A number of players have joined the race in pushing for open skies in the recent days.

Ministers of justice and the Attorney Generals from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) adopted the legal instrument on common airspace in Lusaka in May this year.

The launch of a common airspace has already seen 23 countries pledge commitment after years of delays since the plan was first mooted.

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 member states.

The region received Sh1 billion from the African Development Bank in 2014, which is sponsoring the airspace integration project that will enable countries to share data and exchange information.

A Project Implementation Unit (PIU) made up of technical experts based in Kigali was established in 2011 following the signing of an agreement in Rwanda.