Changes needed in Africa’s air transport sector
Zimbabwe’s Tourism Minister Walter Mzembi has called on African countries to adopt an open skies policy to allow more international airlines to fly in and increase tourism traffic.
Speaking in the context of the recent decision on the granting of hosting rights for the 2013 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Congress to Zambia and Zimbabwe, Mzembi said national carriers faced perennial operational challenges and an open skies policy would see more visitors coming into the region ahead of the meeting.
The two countries’ joint bid to co-host the UNWTO Congress was successful at this year’s meeting in South Korea.
“Our governments must adopt open sky policies that I think in the short to medium-term will result in increased air traffic. This will create the momentum required to promote tourism ahead of the 2013 Congress.
“We have already put forward proposals that our government adopts an open sky policy considering that Air Zimbabwe is not performing well,” said Mzembi.
However there are fears that by adopting the open skies policy, African states could destroy their national aviation industry by exposing it to bigger sharks in the form of well-established and huge international airlines.
The secretary-general of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), Dr Elijah Chingosho in September this year said African carriers were facing stiff competition from international airlines which he said on top of dominating Africa’s airline industry, were also poaching trained and skilled personnel.
“The carriers coming from outside Africa are carrying over 75 percent of the passenger traffic between Africa and the rest of the world.
“There are some African governments that seem to give more traffic rights to foreign carriers than to their own African carriers,’’ said Dr Chingosho.
He said there was need to speedily implement the Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1999 to help African airlines stave off competition.
“We need to open up Africa for African carriers so that we have one market within the continent that is not moving at a pace we want.
“We want to do this by implementing the Yamoussoukro Declaration…the continent is being invaded by foreign carriers.
“And some of these carriers use various tricks to weaken the local African ones. They damp capacity on the market.
“They offer cheap flight fares and after they drive out the local carriers from the market they revise their tariffs (upwards).
“Some of them poach pilots, technicians and engineers from the African carriers.”
The major objective of the Yamoussoukro Declaration is to create a single domestic air transport market in Africa.
The Declaration was endorsed by Heads of State of the then OAU (now African Union) in 1999.
In October, 1988, the ministers in charge of civil aviation in African states met in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire and expounded a new African Air Transport Policy, later called the Yamoussoukro Declaration.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa initiated a further conference in Yamoussoukro, which resulted in the historic agreement on pan-African liberalization of air services, the 1999 Yamoussoukrou Decision.
“Signatory states were obliged to ensure the fair opportunity to compete on a nondiscriminatory basis.
“A monitoring body was to supervise and implement the decision, and an African air transport executing agency was to ensure fair competition.
“Even though the decision was a pan-African agreement to which most African states are bound, the parties decided that it should be implemented by separate regional economic organizations,” notes a report by the African Development Bank on the continent’s air transport sector.
However, the monitoring body of the implementation process has met only a few times, and competition rules and arbitration procedures that are to cater for the increased liberalization of African civil aviation are still pending.
According to 2010 World Bank report on African infrastructure, although an executing agency was finally created in 2007 by assigning the responsibilities and duties to the African Civil Aviation Commission (a specialized institution of the African Union), the body has yet to prove its effectiveness.
These dysfunctions at the policy and institutional level of the continent’s aviation industry have contributed to the generally poor sector performance.
If fully implemented, experts contend that operators will be able to serve any destination (all freedoms), and tariffs and capacity and/or frequency of services will be unregulated.
This presents a potential boon for aviation players on the continent, especially in view of the growing levels of international tourist flows.