Regional governments and airlines should invest more in infrastructure development and work toward open sky policies to become competitive, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has said
Raphael Kuuchi, the IATA Africa chief, also urged airlines to embrace code share agreements, arguing that this helps them cut costs and maximize their potential.
Kuuchi was speaking during the association’s annual stakeholders’ meeting in Kigali recently. The event brought together regional airlines and aviation experts to discuss industry developments and chart a way forward.
“While many air markets between Africa and countries outside Africa have been liberalized to a bigger extent, most intra-African aviation markets remain largely closed, subject to restrictive bilateral agreements which limits the growth development of air services,” said Kuuchi.
“This limits the sector’s growth, which also affects its contribution toward the development of the continent.”
A fortnight ago, Northern Corridor member states (Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan) agreed to liberalize their airspace, allowing local airlines the fifth freedom. Under the initiative that is expected to significantly improve the regional aviation sector, airlines like Kenya Airways and RwandAir, will be operating as local carriers when it comes into force next year. It is also tipped to help reduce air transport fares, which have for long caused an outcry among travelers, especially importers and exporters.
It is also expected to stimulate growth in terms of traffic volumes, facilitate tourism, trade and investments across the region.
According to Kuuchi, flight charges in the region could drop by between 25 and 35 per cent only if Northern Corridor governments implement the open airspace policy.
He added that the move could enable regional airlines to save up to $0.5 billion per year, saying this would be a huge boost to the aviation.
Jean Paul Nyirubutama, the RwandAir acting chief executive officer, said it presents airlines new opportunities to grow their operations and become more profitable.
“Increasing connectivity along the Northern Corridor will help strengthen our footprint across the region. We, therefore, welcome any efforts toward achieving this goal because it’s one of the ways we will be able to achieve our economic objectives,” Nyirubutama noted.
The Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA) director general, Silas Udahemuka, said the government will continue investing more resources in the aviation industry as one of the ways of supporting such programmes (open skies). This, according Udahemuka, will help boost the industry’s competitiveness, make it more profitable and enhance its capacity to contribute to the national development.
Sector players speak out
Meanwhile, Pauline Kariuki, the Kenya Airways, Air France-KLM country manager, argued that partnerships among airlines are essential for them to reduce operational costs and maximize returns.
“I believe we can achieve more through code share agreements…If we can agree among ourselves, it may cut costs and drive profits upwards,” Karuiki told Business Times last week. Karuiki noted that industry players should work with policy-makers, especially in ensuring that sector-friendly policies are enacted to support its growth.
Sudhir Sreedharan, flydubai’s vice-president for commercial operations, said increasing connectivity could boost air traffic and attract more people to use planes regularly.
Aviation supports nearly seven million jobs, and contributes over $67.8 billion to Africa’s GDP. These are some of the reasons experts say governments on the continent should promote open skies as the gain offered by such an initiative far outstrips opportunities presented the current status quo where airspace is largely closed.
Aviation experts say in regions where countries still have safety challenges that threaten growth of the sector, working jointly is paramount to overcome such barriers and ensure sustainable growth of the industry.