African airlines fight over open skies to attract foreign tourists

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With positive targets to attract more tourists from the United States, Europe, and Asia to visit Africa, most African countries are lacking airline services oriented from the continent.

Most African countries with best tourist attractions have given up their skies to the Middle East and European-registered air carriers to fly there with full domination of the continent’s airspace.

Airline and tourism experts discussing the trends shaping travel and tourism in the ongoing Africa Travel Association’s 41st Annual World Tourism Conference in Kigali, Rwanda, said only a small percentage of African carriers fly international routes.

Foreign airlines had captured two-thirds of the capacity going in and out of Africa.

ForwardKeys latest report, shows that bookings for flights to Africa are currently at 16.8 percent ahead of July 2016. However, it is notable that consumer demand and airline investment is greater in travel to African countries from outside the continent than it is between African countries,” said Olivier Jager, CEO of ForwardKeys.

On the other hand, African airline executives are pushing back against government intrusions, red tape, high taxes, and political meddling which all made African-registered airlines fail to grow under stiff competition over the African skies, experts noted.

Ethiopian Airways, Kenya Airways, and South African Airways were the only three top airlines registered on the continent with good performance on their flights outside the continent last year.

The three airlines connect the African continent to other key tourist markets in the United States, South America, Southeast Asia, and Europe. It is estimated that the 3 airlines have sold two-thirds of the estimated 9.2 million seats purchased for travel within sub-Saharan Africa, taking advantage of their direct connections outside the continent.

To make the air travel industry profitable, African countries need to liberalize air traffic, according to IATA and the African Union, aviation experts said.

Industry experts often criticize African countries for having more bilateral open sky agreements with partners outside the continent than with African partners.

The African Airlines Association (AFRAA), noted at the Aviation Africa conference in Kigali in February this year that airport passenger charges in Africa are 2 to 5 times higher than the global US$25 average. Aviation fuel is also 2.5 times more expensive in Africa than on other continents.

If African governments reduce charges and taxes, airlines and the aviation industry would bring more prosperity, creating jobs, contributing more to Gross Domestic Products and trade that would overcompensate for the reduction in charges.

Politically-motivated appointments at management levels at the expense of proven competence, a recurrent problem for state-owned enterprises, also plagues most national airlines.

AFRAA has declared Ethiopian Airlines the best in Africa for the fifth consecutive time last year, recognizing, in part, its “exemplary” cooperation with other African carriers.

Ethiopian Airlines’ successes appear to be showing the way forward for the entire aviation industry on the continent. While wholly owned by the government, the airline has an independent management team. It has embarked on an ambitious development program, which includes promoting travel hubs in East and West Africa with African partners.