The idea for uniting African skies was kickstarted in October 1988 under the Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD), a comprehensive reform of the air transport industry. The policy reformed into the Yamoussoukro Decision, November 1999, which marked the liberalization of the intra-Africa air transport market. However, the World Bank noted that Africa which is home to 12% of the world’s population, still accounts for less than 1% of the global air service market.

Liberalization of African airspace will be actually able to improve operating conditions for the continent’s airlines and ease people’s movement across the continent, President of Rwanda Paul Kagame said in the opening of Aviation Africa 2017 forum in Kigali, Rwanda, 22 February 2017.

Challenges from ‘home’

In 2014, the International Organization of Air Transport (IATA) conducted an independent study on how 12 African countries implement the policy and it found that intra-African liberalization between just 12 key markets would provide an extra 155,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in annual GDP.  A potential five million passengers a year are being denied the chance to travel between these markets because of unnecessary restrictions on establishing air routes. 

Many African countries still restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers, World Bank’s study found.

The protective policies committed by some countries resulted in the absence of participations in the YD. Charles Schlumberger, Lead Air Transport Specialist at the World Bank, and author of Open Skies for Africa, stated: “A historic opportunity is being missed. Ten countries have not signed on to or completed proper ratification of this decision, and many others that are signatories have not implemented it.

Meantime, most countries in Africa that have abandoned their ailing carriers and opened up to foreign operators now have air services, both passenger and freight, that are more efficient, safer, and with more competitive prices.”

According to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), one of the underlined issues was the high aeronautical charges at some airports in Africa due to low traffic.

InterVistas Consulting, the company conducting study on African Open Sky, considered that liberalization of African skies can lead to increased air service levels and lower fares, which in turn stimulates additional traffic volumes, facilitates tourism, trade, and brings about enhanced productivity, economic growth and increased employment.

Rwanda at the forefront?

President Kagame’s speech in the Aviation Africa 2017 forum also emphasizes that liberalization will improve the aviation industry in terms of profitability, affordability and safety.

Rwanda might be the first example on the continent as it has fully opened its sky and supports the creation of a single African air transport market. Rwanda sees aviation as a vehicle to promoting the country’s vision of becoming a services hub. The country’s national career, RwandAir, continues to expand its wings, with Asia, Europe and U.S routes expected to open in the near future, New Times reported.

Kagame also said that beyond eradicating barriers to growth, it was important to build capacity and expertise in various aspects of the industry. "The brand quality of African airlines rests on excellent service and comfort, an impeccable safety record, good corporate governance, as well as integrating the latest technology. We must consistently exceed expectations, in order to compete globally," he said.

Commitment still needed

Abdullah M. Al-Sayed, Founder and Chairman of Nexus Flight Operations Services, said during the Aviation Africa Forum that airlines’ collaboration could boost the continent's aviation sector. He noted that African skies are yet to open up and it has limited African airlines with the capacity to the opportunities available in the global aviation market.

Similarly, IATA’s Regional Director of External Relations Adefunke Adeyemi stated during the interview with NewTimes that Africa needs commitment from all stake holders to make the continent well connected.

She added that Africa needs the right policies, skills and infrastructure to make aviation business more successful.