The four partner states in the Northern Corridor Integration Projects (NCIP) – Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and South Sudan – have finally come to appreciate that the proliferation of airlines in the region will sooner or later bring about a waste of scarce resources unless cooperation supersedes national narrow-minded ego trips, mostly by people with their own agenda.
It was welcome news, therefore, when after the last meeting of the NCIP countries in Kenya, information began to emerge that in particular South Sudan – though not a member of the East African Community but nevertheless a part of the NCIP group – and perhaps more reluctantly Uganda, came on board and agreed to promote both RwandAir and Kenya Airways to provide for the air travel needs of their respective citizens.
Bureaucrats in the national aviation regulatory offices have been tasked to create a single airspace area for the four countries, effectively preparing the way for RwandAir and Kenya Airways – Uganda and South Sudan do not have national airlines – to operate without any restrictions across the region.
RwandAir is presently operating flights from Entebbe to/from Juba and from Entebbe to/from Nairobi under fifth freedom rights. The Rwandan national airline in particular, after announcing their order for four more brand-new aircraft due to be delivered next year, including two Airbus A330s, will offer Ugandans the option to travel across the region and the continent via Kigali while expanding destinations to China, India, and Europe next year. Similar to operations by Brussels Airlines and KLM, both of which fly from their hubs via Kigali to Entebbe, RwandAir could route their wide-body flights via Entebbe, too, subject to sufficient passenger numbers boarding and de-boarding, or else provide more feeder flights out of Entebbe to Kigali.
The same principle applies to Kenya Airways’ flights in equal terms for Juba and for Entebbe, to connect passengers from these two points of origin into their regional, African, and intercontinental network.
It is understood that the opening of the airspaces might well be restricted to the respective national carriers leaving other airlines, in particular those privately owned in Kenya out of the equation who will have to compete as designated airlines for point-to-point traffic.
The ministerial working group will submit their findings and recommendations to the next NCIP Head of State Summit which was postponed due to East Africa’s presidents attending the UN General Assembly in New York, making a postponement of the Nairobi NCIP Summit necessary.
Mr. Barry Kashambo, formerly the head of CASSOA and now Regional Director for ICAO based in Nairobi, was quoted to have said that such a move was bound to bring airfares down and increase the number of frequencies connecting the region.
The new deal could become effective, provided that in particular the notorious Kenyan regulators are kept on a tight leash, as early as the first quarter of 2016 and then provide passengers out of Entebbe and Juba with additional flights operated by Kenya Airways and RwandAir.
Left out of this development are Burundi, the worst-connected country in the East African Community and also almost shunned due to recent political events, and Tanzania, which opted to stay out of the fast-track cooperation entered into by Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, and Kenya. Subsequently Tanzania’s airlines will not benefit from these additional opportunities which are now beckoning on the horizon, leaving that country to ponder what new path to embark on after a new president comes into office following the upcoming elections.
Aviation industry organizations like IATA and of course AFRAA, the African Airline Association based in Nairobi, have for long promoted the concept of closer cooperation instead of constant fragmentation to see more viable airlines emerge which have the capacity to withstand the competitive pressures of not just the European legacy airlines but in particular the emerging mega airlines from the Gulf and from Turkey.
“What we need here in East Africa, in fact across Africa, is a sound mix between full-service airlines and low-cost airlines. The latter has, and I give you Jambojet in Kenya and Fastjet in Tanzania as an example, brought a whole new segment of travelers to go by air instead of using buses or trains. However, the former will equally have a place because of connectivity through their hubs rather than point-to-point traffic. If existing and well-operating airlines like Kenya Airways and RwandAir can be given full access to the market in Uganda and South Sudan, it will benefit travelers as much as the airlines. What the countries must, however, watch out for is that limits are set on fares to avoid exploitative ticket prices, because that would kill this concept instantly,” wrote a regular source from Nairobi who on second thought then declined to be named.