An air transport industry lobby group Monday called on African governments to remove air traffic barriers to promote intra-Africa travel.
Africa Airlines Association Chief Executive Engineer Elijah Chongosho said air transport business for passengers and cargo continues to suffer as local carriers face hefty taxes, fees and other charges associated with intra-Africa trade.
“The situation worsens when some governments collude with foreign governments to block Africa airlines from their airspace in favour of foreign airlines whose officials ‘grease’ the palms of senior government officials,” he said.
Delivering the inaugural keynote address at the Association of Insurance Brokers of Kenya monthly meeting at Serena’s Amani Room, Dr Chongosho said the notion that African passengers only travel by air to Europe or America must cease so as to promote local travel.
“An estimated 41 per cent of our revenues come from foreign travel, intra-Africa travel accounts for 31 per cent of income while domestic travel is 26 per cent. In Europe, air traffic is liberalized and it has quadrupled business. Africa governments must change the notion that only rich people travel and allow locals to take to the air,” he said.
Dr Chongosho said it was cheaper to fly from Nairobi to Dubai then to Luanda than flying using an African airline from Nairobi to Angola. This skewed treatment saw many West Africa national airlines fold leaving behind a foreign airline that had since tripled airfares due to its monopoly.
He said African airlines needed to quickly swallow their pride and form mergers which will ensure airlines share airports and also agree on how they can efficiently move passengers.
Kenya’s position on the African airspace remained unique since it enjoyed numerous mergers that boosted its frequency on a number of lucrative routes.
Africa, he lamented, also suffered from a deliberate onslaught by foreign airlines which poached experienced staff leaving local airlines to rely on recently trained personnel who lacked adequate experience.
“Open up your airspace and licence more carriers on local routes where fares should be competitively priced allowing more people to travel. Even the cargo business is skewed against local carriers in favour of foreign carriers,” he said.
Dr Chongosho observed that Africa airlines accounted for 2 per cent of the global cargo business whereby last year they transported 780 tonnes compared to foreign airlines which transported upto 20 million tonnes of goods.
“The Gulf states offered subsidies to their airlines and this has seen every traveller pass by Dubai before heading to another destination. Here they use taxis, spend money in shopping malls and hotels. But in Africa, we believe the air traveller is rich and must be taxed heavily and that is where we lose out,” he noted.
Dr Chongosho proposed that airlines be shielded from government interference where top management was regularly changed making it impossible for senior managers to effectively take charge of airlines and turn them into profitable businesses.
He lauded ongoing agreements within the East African community but mourned that the pace of change was very slow.