A plan to fully liberalise the regional air transport sector may take longer as countries still have the fear of losing their market, a senior EAC official said yesterday.
Phillip Wambugu, the director for infrastructure at the EAC secretariat, observed that though the bloc's Heads of State signed the protocol to open up the regional air space, implementation has remained a problem, which he said will continue to hinder the sector.
The liberalisation is in line with the EAC Treaty Article 93 that compels partner states to harmonise policies on civil aviation to promote the development of safe, reliable, efficient and economically viable civil aviation with a view to developing appropriate infrastructure.
The official is in Kigali for the EAC sectoral council meeting on transport, communication and meteorology where experts from the five partner states are deliberating on different regional projects.
"We are coming from a state where aviation authorities have been signing bilateral agreements. We need to harmonise the regulations and open up the market for the benefit of our people," Wambugu said in an exclusive interview.
He added that some countries, especially those with undeveloped aviation sectors, were pensive that through the merger, they would be swallowed up by the developed ones. But he said such fears should not come up under the true spirit of East Africanism.
Failure to harmonise the operations is currently regarded as the biggest challenge hindering the growth of the region's air transport sector.
Speaking to The New Times, the Director General of Rwandan Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA), who is also a board member of the regional Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency (CASSOA), Dr Richard Masozera, explained that tpartner states were not at the same pace.
"It's true the Heads of State agreed to liberalse the market but the problem is that countries are implementing on different levels," he said.
He said Rwanda was on the right track citing the recent agreement with Burundi where airlines from the two countries would enjoy unlimited frequencies to each other's air space.
Government is also planning to sign open-sky policy agreements with Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania and Malawi as part of opening up the market.
Apparently for a plane to fly to another country it has to pay a fee, and it is this fee that the treaty seeks to scrap.
Experts believe that one of the reasons the biggest part of the African continent remains underserved is failure to implement the so-called Yamoussoukro Decision adopted in 1999 by 44 African countries agreeing to de-regulate their air services. Most of the countries, it is thought, do not comply because they want to protect the national air carriers, which are mostly state owned.
The Decision calls for full liberalisation of intra-African air transport services in terms of access, capacity, frequency, and tariffs, liberalised tariffs and fair competition, and compliance with established International Civil Aviation Organisation safety standards.