Political will towards open African skies has improved, says Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa, but success will depend on proper implementation. “There have to be processes in place to deal with disputes, competition rules and such,” he says. “What has been a major challenge to date is getting each individual country on the continent to implement domestic legislation that allows for open skies. Without this domestic enactment, an open-sky policy cannot be formally enforced.”
Raphael Kuuchi, Vice President for Africa at the International Air Transport Association, adds that there is renewed commitment to deliver open skies to the continent thanks to the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), launched by the African Union last year. He believes that countries, if committed to the process and working together, could easily see this happen in as little as two years’ time. “It could, however, take another ten years if countries drag the processes out.”
One of the biggest benefits of liberalisation will be easier access for tourists, fewer flight delays, and having the ability to travel to more than one destination or country in one trip, says Rachel Muir, Charter Executive at Federal Airlines.
Whilst the move towards open skies has gained impetus, the move to include more destinations on one trip is still slow, says Kuuchi, although first steps are being taken in that direction. Zweigenthal adds that to effect any real change, the existing networks of bilateral arrangements between pairs of African countries will have to be relaxed.
Abel Alemu, regional manager for Southern Africa at Ethiopian Airlines, agrees saying the process is gaining momentum with a partnership approach being taken, such as the launch of the new Mozambican airline, in partnership with Ethiopian Airlines.
“Liberalisation has been difficult in the African context due to the fact that 80% of African air traffic is currently occupied by European carriers. Aviation is a capital-intensive industry and many African countries do not have the funds required to get started. The other side of this coin is that most of those who have managed to get started simply cannot compete with those carriers who have more routes,” he says. “As a result, ticket prices go down and so too does their profit margin. Carriers across the African country need to work together before they will see themselves occupy more airspace.”