Assuring airline operators of a level playing field for both big and small airlines remains a key challenge in the complete liberalisation of air transport in East Africa, a senior aviation official has said.
The other challenge, according to Ladislaus Matindi, the principal aviation officer engineer, are the low EAC regional and international airport capacities, safety oversight and security concerns.
As a result, Matindi said, EAC partner states have been granting rights among themselves through outdated policies based on the old Bermuda type agreement with emphasis on bi-lateralism, reciprocity and protectionism.
"Some partner states with small and weaker airlines are concerned that full liberalisation may lead to the disappearance of their airlines as a result of anti-competitive behaviour such as abuse of dominant position by the bigger airlines," said Matindi in a statement last week in Arusha while meeting EAC officials.
The aviation industry in East Africa faces several challenges but is also rife with opportunities and resources, especially the new found oil and gas.
Despite these challenges, Matindi said several efforts have been made to liberalise the sector following the ministerial decision relating to the implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration (of 7 October 1988) regarding Liberalisation of Access to Air Transport Markets in Africa.
He said the council was expected to consider a draft of proposals by the end of May this year.
Matindi said the framework and the application of the EAC Common Market Protocol will enable partner states eliminate, between themselves, all the economic restrictions in the aviation sub-sector related to capacity, frequencies, city pairs, cabotage, and designation of airlines.
"With the foregoing developments, it is hoped that operational efficiencies and increased frequencies and capacities will lead to higher levels of service in the aviation market in the region and also lower fares and freight charges," said Matindi.
He added that the issues were being addressed through the development of airport projects and the EAC Civil Aviation and Security Oversight Agency (CASSOA), which is overseeing the implementation of the revised regulations covering aviation safety and airports and aerodromes security.
The council of ministers also approved amendments to Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreements (BASAs) between states.
There has been an increase in city-pairs connections among the EAC partner states and countries have adopted multiple designations of airlines and are progressively removing limitations on frequencies, capacity between the city-pairs in the region and traffic rights.