African air trade set to double as liberalisation nears
After years of stagnation, it appears that liberalisation of the skies over Africa may finally be within reach, perhaps as early as next year, according to the African Airlines Association (AFRAA).
The aviation lobbying group told the Chinese Xinhua news service that significant progress has been made on cross-border interconnectivity among many African nations, which could have a profound impact on inter-regional air trade.
Elijah Chingosho, secretary general of AFRAA, said Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda and Zimbabwe had pledged to finally implement the Yamoussoukro Declaration, paving the way for other African states to follow suit.
The Yamoussoukro agreement would remove the web of bilateral restrictions on international air trade across the continent and establish a single air market in Africa. Yamoussoukro was passed back in 1999, but was never ratified by all member nations.
"We are likely to achieve the target of having a single African air transport market by the end of January 2017," Chingosho said from Nairobi. Should each of the nations follow through on the agreement, the Yamoussoukro Declaration would cover about 85 percent of Africa’s air traffic, he said.
Full liberalisation would mean that airlines based in Africa will be free to fly, without restrictions, to as many other African countries as they wish, achieving for air freight in Africa what Open Skies has done for passenger aviation globally.
Chingosho said implementation of the agreement could double the size of the air industry in the next five years.
The final hurdle will be to convince those nations with poorly performing airlines to stop the common practice of imposing highly restrictive tariffs on foreign carriers to protect their assets, he said.
"Some of these inefficient airlines lobby their governments not to allow competition from other African airlines," Chingosho told Xinhua.
AFRAA has stepped up its efforts to convince these governments that free competition is better for everyone because it encourages and rewards innovation.
Africa desperately needs fully liberalised skies to become competitive with the rest of the world.
According to AFRAA, there are a total of approximately 760 commercial aircraft currently being operated by all Africa-based carriers, representing less than 3 percent of global aviation revenue.
In essence then, Africa’s combined fleet is only about half the size of the fleet of the world’s largest airline by number of aircraft, American Airlines, which operates nearly 1,500 planes.