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Will the Dream of the African Open Sky finally come true in 2020?

Will the Dream of the African Open Sky finally come true in 2020? - By Ahmed Haouaria

21 Jan 2020

Traveling in Africa is sometimes hard to manage. Take for example a (Rabat-Morocco) – (Johannesburg-South Africa) route. It will take at least fifteen hours and a stopover in Europe or a Gulf Country. Long, air pollutants.and exhausting …. But the situation will probably improve. African countries are unifying their efforts in this direction to open the air boundaries of individual countries. After the ZLEC continental free trade zone, African states are trying to materialize another ambitious project: MUTAA, in french Marché Unique du Transport Aérien Africain with a specific goal: the liberalization of the African sky. Clearly there will be no more national barriers to fly planes over the continent.

Africa: The big potential 

While international air traffic, in number of passengers, increased by 3.6% in the first half of 2019, the most significant growth was recorded in the African sky, where the increase is in the order of 7.1 %, reports the latest assessment of ACI World, the professional association of airports in the world.While the increase in air traffic has become a real environmental problem, the latest figures published by the professional association of the world's airports show that Africa, in turn, is not immune to this increase.In June 2019 alone, air traffic exploded by 12.3%, in number of passengers, on the African continent.Over one year, at the end of June 2019, growth is estimated at 8.3%.No other region in the world displays such a value. To understand this dynamism, we must compare these figures to the increase in overall air traffic, which is 4.4% in one year and 3.6% in the first six months of 2019.The Caribbean and Latin America are the second region where air traffic takes up more space. During the first semester, the number of passengers increased by 5.5%, and by 5.6% over one year at the end of June 2019.In Europe, the growth in air traffic remains moderate, around 4.3% in the first half and 5.1% over one year. It was in Asia-Pacific that the sky was not overloaded by airlines, with an increase of 1.9% and 3.3% respectively over the same periods.

With MUTAA what are, concretely, the expected changes ?

Concretely today when an airline wants to open a route in a country it must comply with the different rules depending on the destinations. A system which is essentially based on bilateral agreements between the countries in which the planes take off and those where they land, which does not encourage fluid cooperation between the companies and this is systematically reflected on ticket prices.In Africa airport taxes and charges are among the most expensive in the world, from 50 to 150 USD per passenger. As a result, air traffic in Africa represents barely 3% of global air traffic while the continent represents 15% of the world's population.Many benefits are naturally expected from the opening of the African Sky.First of all, the promoters foresee a drop in the price of flight tickets for passengers but also an improvement in the quality of services and in the end they count on the increase in air traffic to boost continental tourism and the creation of dozens of thousands of jobs.

Officially launched in 2018 on the margins of a summit of the ✱Organization of African Unity (OAU), only 28 countries, out of the 55 on the continent, are for the moment signatories of the agreement not yet fully operational. So there is still a long way to go to implement MUTAA.Above all, it will be necessary to define the competition rules and in particular the subsidy rules of African states, widely applied in Africa, in order to avoid any risk of unfair competition. This is the biggest concern of many national airlines in front of their big rivals like Ethiopian Airlines and RwandAir already well installed on the continental. The market being still limited, not all companies have a vocation to grow internationally and the 55 African capitals will not all become hubs.The biggest African companies today have fleets between 60 and 120 planes, it is 3 times less than the European companies. So there will be winners but also losers.

A project always blocked at the end of the trail

While the African air market is promised the fastest growing in the world, the famous common open sky still fails to set up, two years after its official launch.Two years after its official launch, Mutaa, the single African air market, has not taken off despite the many hopes it nurtures.At the moment, with West Africa in mind, many states prefer to protect their skies and their national companies and go it alone.This is for example the case of Senegal and its new airline Air Senegal, the young.The Senegalese example is quite relevant. In attempting this new test for the national airline, the government has not only taken control of its air routes, but has not hesitated to dismiss certain companies, such as Corsair, in order to be able to give advantage to the national carrier.

A market promising great development but with Higher operation costs

Yet a common understanding could only strengthen the African sky in the future. If today the continent only accounts for 3% of world air traffic, the margin of progression is exponential.Traffic volumes are set to double over the next 15 years to 400 million pax, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA)."Africa is the future of aviation. When the global sector doubles its traffic in the coming years, Africa will quadruple it.The potential of the air market is enormous. In size, Africa can contain China, the USA, Europe and India. That sums it all up, ”said Tewolde GebreMariam, enthusiastic, at the head of the continent's first airline, Ethiopian Airlines, last November.In 2019, according to figures published at the start of the year by ForwardKeys, the African air market grew by 7.5%, led by capacity additions from Ethiopian, Air China, China Southern, Kenya Airways or Royal Air Maroc…And according to the same study, growth forecasts are even more pressing in the near future, with Africa clearly distinguishing itself from other world regions. As of January 1, 2020, bookings are already up 12.5% ​​from the previous year. To cope with the challenges posed by major European and Gulf airlines, It is in African states best interest to implement the Open sky and avoid to compete often uselessly. And without the effective establishment of MUTA, there is no doubt that the African markets will remain as fragmented.

The case of Morocco

Morocco is still not part of the Single Market for Air Transport in Africa (MUTAA). For the Moroccan national company, this open sky is a windfall but also a real source of competition.

Prudence or disinterest? Morocco is still slow to join MUTAA Single Market. And yet, the kingdom, whose national airline, Royal Air Maroc (RAM) is one of the major players in the African sky, has every interest in joining the 28 countries that have said "yes" to the continental open sky. The respective aviation authorities of the African countries are however committed to fully implement the decision to create the Single Market for air transport in Africa ​​by harmonizing all bilateral air services agreements to ensure the lifting of all restrictions which do not allow compliance with MUTAA decision . Yamoussoukro decision adopted on November 14, 1999 opens the way to 5th freedom for the benefit of African airlines. In other words, these carriers can serve African destinations from airports other than their hubs.

Consecrated bread for Royal Air Maroc RAM

On the side of kingdom officials, no interest in MUTAA is detectable to date. Would it be a way of clearly defining the contours of this new market before taking the plunge, knowing that this project was well advanced before the return of Morocco to the Pan-African forum? One thing is sure, in African countries with large companies, we are pressing forward for the effective realization of MUTAA. This is particularly the case for Ethiopia, Egypt and even South Africa, which sees it as a real boon to perpetuate their domination over the African sky. For RAM, whose third of its activities are carried by Africa, the African open sky is also blessed bread. The national company which already serves around thirty African destinations could considerably improve its performance thanks to the extensions offered by 5th freedom. For sure, it will gain a lot in terms of increased traffic and the number of passengers carried on Africa. This is all the more so since RAM is one of the rare African airlines to have a fleet of 61 aircraft, large enough to deploy anywhere on the continent.

But also competition

However, it should also be stressed that if Morocco joins MUTAA, all the companies of the signatory countries will have the right to land on the kingdom's airports, which will constitute great competition able to nibble market shares at RAM, knowing that it currently operates without a competitor on the overwhelming majority of its African lines. Hence the dilemma which still pushes to study the possible consequences of an entry into MUTAA.

About OAU

✱The Organization of African Unity (OAU) is an inter-state organization, to which the 55 member states that make up the countries of the African continent have joined. It was officially founded in 2002 to take over from the Organization of African Unity (OAU, 1963-1999).


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