Balala backs open skies policy to jumpstart aviation, tourism

Written By: Ronald Owili
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PHOTO. | File

As some African countries make their entry into the turbulent aviation sector with the launch of own national carriers, others are on the brink of collapse exacerbated by COVID-19 pandemic.

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Commercial aviation has been one of the hardest hit sectors since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic globally as demand for air travel slumped sharply on account of movement restrictions to contain the diseases.

While losses are expected to continue mounting due to travel uncertainties, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala says the Yamoussoukro Declaration of 199 that relaxes some airspace restrictions within the continent could salvage the ailing tourism sector.

“This can only be achieved if we embrace open skies policy because failure to do so will remain a major hindrance in the aviation sector, and not only the region, but the continent as well will continue to underperform on the global stage,” said CS Balala.

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Since its endorsement by 44 African countries, only South Africa and Morocco have  fully implemented the policy.

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The liberalization of Africa’s air transport targets to increase connectivity in the continent, reduce air transport costs, travel time and increase opportunities in the aviation sector.

According to the International Air Travel Association, air travel demand has declined 66% this year, costing airlines worldwide $84 billion in losses and $415 billion in revenue.

IATA had previously estimated that 4.8 million jobs could be lost in the sector by the end of the year due to COVID-19.

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Investing in infrastructure

CS Balala also called for increased spending to develop airports and other infrastructure that will enhance air travel and increase inter-connectivity.

“The continent of Africa needs to heavily invest on its infrastructure, which is the road, rail, and especially the air connectivity which is the cheapest to develop. There are 1400 cities within Africa but only 260, representing 16% of the total, are connected.”

Out of 1.47 billion tourists, Africa is said to account for 3% of outbound tourists and 5% of inbound tourists making it the region with the lowest share.

‘Air Africa’?

Speaking Thursday during the restoring air route networks for secondary hubs in Africa Webinar organized by Wesgro, CS Balala routed for a single continental carrier that will compete effectively with the European and gulf carriers.

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Increased competition has been largely attributed to current financial distress facing some of Africa’s giant state-backed airlines.

“To bolster Africa free trade and to promote tourism, the big African Airlines such as Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air and South African Airlines etc. need to merge. This way, we could form the best Continental airline and collaboratively build routes networks to enhance Africa connectivity in all our 54 countries.”

Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania are some of the countries that have revamped their national carriers, putting them back on operation.

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