Liberalization of African skies may finally arrive in 2017

It’s been a long time coming, but it appears that liberalization may finally be coming to the skies over Africa, but perhaps not until next year. This was the assessment by an aviation lobbying group called the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), which told the Chinese Xinhua news service that significant progress has been made on cross-border interconnectivity among many African nations.

Elijah Chingosho, secretary general of AFRAA, said several countries – including Nigeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda and Zimbabwe – have all pledged to finally implement the Yamoussoukro Declaration, an agreement that 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 the agreement was never ratified by all member nations.

“We are likely to achieve the target of having a single African air transport market by 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.

Once liberalization is fully achieved, airlines based in Africa will be free to fly, without restrictions, to as many other African countries that they wish. Chingosho said that this freedom may end up doubling the size of the air industry in the next five years.

The final hurdle, he added, 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. “Some of these inefficient airlines lobby their governments not to allow competition from other African airlines,” he told Xinhua. Chingosho added that AFRAA has stepped up its efforts to convince these governments that free competition is better for everyone because it encourages and rewards innovation.

Even with fully liberalized skies, the continent, as a whole, has a long way to climb to become competitive with the world. According to AFRAA, there are about 760 aircraft currently being operated by all commercial Africa-based carriers, representing less than 3 percent of global aviation revenue. That combined fleet total 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.

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