How Freer Skies Will Translate To Safer And Cheaper Flights In Africa - Alex Ndungu Njeru

How Freer Skies Will Translate To Safer And Cheaper Flights In Africa - Alex Ndungu Njeru

There are things on this continent that simply don’t make sense; like a return flight from Banjul in the Gambia to Lagos in Nigeria priced at 6,000 US$D. For that amount of money I could have several return flights from Nairobi to Shanghai. Meanwhile it costs a tenth of that amount to fly from Nairobi to Lagos, the distance from Banjul to Lagos is 1400 miles, while that from the Nairobi to Lagos is 2365 miles. The average cost of a flight in the African continent is higher than on another inhabited continent on earth.

Africa has the lowest flight density of any continent on earth. In terms of revenue passenger-kilometers flown (1 revenue passenger-kilometer is defined as 1 fair-paying passenger transported 1 kilometer [km]), the intra-African market represents less than 1 percent of the global market and total African revenue passenger kilometers (intra Africa and and intercontinental traffic) account for only 4.12 percent of global revenue passenger-kilometers (WorldBank 2010).

As Charles E. Schlumberger notes in ‘Open Skies: Implementing the Yamoussoukro Declaration,’ immediately after African independence, there was a frenzy and perhaps for nationalistic and patriotic reasons for African states engaged on a frenzy to bankroll National Air carriers. Most of this national carriers depended on transcontinental traffic between these Africa countries and their former colonial masters to bankroll unprofitable regional routes, needless to say that that most of this national air carriers failed miserably, were debt riddled and had very poor safety records. From the original Kenyan Airlines to, to Nigeria Airways, to Air Zimbabwe almost without fail national air carriers in Africa found themselves with the option to either fold-up or privatize, most chose the earlier. A report by the Organization of African Unity in 1973 highlighted the problems with Africa’s airspace at the time. African politicians considered African air transport to be threatened by dominating carriers from Europe and especially the United States. This was because the main focus of African carriers in international air transport remained on intercontinental traffic, while the intra-African network remained far less developed. At the same time, African politicians considered African air transport to be threatened by dominating carriers from Europe and especially the United States. This was because the main focus of African carriers in international air transport remained on intercontinental traffic, while the intra-African network remained far less developed.

Until 1991, nearly all African carriers were state owned. These carriers were mostly run as government entities and lacked the necessary economic and commercial focus to ensure market-based profitability. Their main means of operating with some profitability was to control income effectively, using restrictions provided by the framework of bilateral agreements. This allowed them to control the market and restrict the entrance of new carriers. In some cases, certain states even refused to grant traffic rights to foreign carriers even though their own carriers lacked the technical, human, and/or financial means to develop a proposed new route. Sometimes, however, they obtained fifth freedom rights by paying “royalties” or commissions. As a result, intra African air traffic remained costly and inefficient, especially in those cases where the bilateral agreement protected a state-owned carrier. To address these shortcomings, on 14 November 1999, African ministers responsible for civil aviation adopted the Yamoussoukro Decision on the liberalization of access to air transport markets in Africa.

The Yamoussoukro Decision became fully binding on 12 August 2002, following its endorsement by heads of states and governments of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in July 2000. However, 20 years after the initial Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1988 and more than 5 years after the Yamoussoukro Decision became fully binding, only a few cases of the exercise of new air traffic rights granted by applying the principles and mechanism of the Yamoussoukro Decision have been observed.

 African can do better than to ignore a document it developed to make air travel better for the continent.

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