(eTN) – An East African Community-sponsored meeting of aviation regulators and operators in Kigali was discussing on Friday the way forward to finally harmonize all regulations governing the industry and liberalize air transport across the five East African Community member states.
Air operators have for long called the bluff of the EAC’s commitment towards opening the skies over East Africa and accused regulators to “hang on to their little fiefdoms” at the expense of operators, requiring a duplication or multiplication of approvals and permits, which due to the high cost involved, keeps air transport unnecessarily expensive.
The introduction of CASSOA, the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency, was supposed to streamline approval processes and validate licenses and permits across the EAC, but non-tariff barriers and politically-inspired “foreigner paranoia,” most visible in one of the member states at the expense of the four others, have defied the full purpose and benefit to percolate down to the operator levels so far, who only bear the added cost without reaping any benefits.
EAC officials, also increasingly frustrated by national “stonewalling” have now taken the initiative to consult with stakeholders, so that eventually, with other protocols coming into place, flights within the region can once again be operated as “domestic” services and no longer require “international” procedures and processes.
Air operators asked about their expectations, however, were skeptical of the “fast track” EAC officials envisage for the liberalization of the aviation sectors across the region, until a single civil aviation body is once again created, represented in each country by “branches” rather than autonomous CAAs.
Said one operator: “Only when the national civil aviation bodies pool their resources and share infrastructure, manpower, and facilities, and drop their often arrogant claims that only a national body could serve the regulatory interests best, will we make progress. And as long as we, from Uganda, are treated like foreign airlines when applying for clearances to fly for instance to Tanzania, there is no breakthrough in sight. Aviation is all about speed, and when we are condemned to wait for 48 or more hours for clearances, and often denied permission to fly, for instance tourists straight into the national parks, then the advantage of speed by using an aircraft is defeated.
“Look at Fly 540 for instance. They had to form companies in Kenya, Tanzania, and here in Uganda, too, instead of having one set up in any chosen member state of the EAC. This means their entire set up is triplicated, and that costs a lot of money with no added benefit but for CAAs to collect fees to do the same job their colleagues across the border already did. Claiming it is in the interest of aviation safety is frankly misleading, because if that argument is made, they basically say their colleagues are useless and cannot be trusted, so the same procedures must be done over and over again.
“It is all about the fees and inspectors getting their 5 day per diems. We told the EAC of these things, and if at last someone noticed it is for the better. Let us wait and see, they have held too many such meetings to remember and nothing much has come out of it for us operators.”