Ethiopia: AU wants enlarged 'African open skies' area to boost African airlines

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (PANA) -The African Union (AU) has supported the immediate creation of an African Open Skies area within 11 countries to give African airlines a better operating environment to effectively deal with foreign airlines.

AU Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said Thursday she supported the formation of the “Open Skies” area among 11 African states which have signalled their readiness to implement the Yamoussoukro Protocol on air space liberalisation in Africa.

“Opening our skies only to non-African airlines will only lead to the disappearance of African airlines,” Dlamini-Zuma said during a meeting with officials from the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), an airlines organisation linked to the AU.

AFRAA Chairperson Fatima Beyina-Moussa, who is also Chief Executive Officer of Equatorial Congo Airlines, (ECAir), expressed AFRAA’s concern that Africa’s skies are not fully liberalised.

According to AFRAA, since the AU Summit in January 2015, 11 Member States have already agreed to open their skies.

Dlamini-Zuma welcomed the progress made in ensuring a more liberalised aviation environment, saying that she saw the progress as a motivation for others to follow suit.

“The 11 countries should go ahead to show that it is possible, and the others will come around when they are ready. Opening our skies only to non-African airlines will only lead to the disappearance of African airlines,” Dlamini-Zuma stressed.

She said there was urgent need to implement the Yamoussoukro Decision, which seeks to minimise the government’s control over aviation, allowing airlines greater access to passengers.

The open skies decision agreed more than two decades ago also sought the liberalisation of aviation.

Currently, countries require bilateral air services agreements to allow flights from one country to land into another and states with no such agreements face restrictions flying passengers.  

Africa’s leading airlines, including Kenya Airways, have recently posted massive losses, blaming the impact of flight cancellations to Ebola-affected West African states and foreign competition from Middle East airlines as a major cause of the losses.

The Kenyan airline, which is still among the 17 state-run airlines in Africa, reported a US$257 million loss in July 2015. South African Airways, another major carrier, also reported US$200 million loss in 2014.  

Dlamini-Zuma and Beyina-Moussa discussed progress towards the achievement of the African open skies, when they met for the first time on Wednesday at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the AU said in a statement.

“Right now it is difficult to travel within Africa. African airlines did not understand before the importance of Yamoussoukro but now are committed to the liberalisation of Africa’s skies,” the AFRAA Chairperson told AU officials.

She hailed the positive progress towards the implementation of the decision, endorsed by countries with major airlines operating within the continent, including Ethiopian Airlines, which recorded US$96 million profit in 2014, one of the few profitable continental carriers.

African carriers still face a number of challenges especially fuel and services cost, inadequate infrastructure, lack of human resources and competition from non-African airlines.

However, industry experts say the prospects and benefits from open skies in Africa are great, including creation of  more jobs especially for the youth and improved movement.

-0- PANA AO/AR 20Aug2015

20 august 2015 17:49:42

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