The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) on Friday partially opened the Ethio-Eritrean airspace that has been closed for any air transport for the past 20 years.
When the Ethio-Eritrean boarder war broke out in May 1998 the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) closed the Ethio-Eritrean airspace up on the request of ECAA. Ethiopian Airlines performed its last commercial flight to Asmara on May 13, 1998. Since then, the airspace has been a no- fly zone.
During Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's (PhD) two-day official visit to Asmara last week, the two countries signed several agreements including the resumption of air and land transport. Accordingly, Ethiopian Airlines announced the resumption of scheduled passenger flights to the Eritrean capital. Ethiopian is set to perform its inaugural flight to Asmara on July 18 with the ultra-modern Boeing B787 Dreamliner aircraft.
Ethiopian Airlines has requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ECAA to open the closed airspace for commercial operations. Wossenyeleh Hunegnaw (Col.) director general of ECAA told The Reporter that after due consultation with ICAO and the Eritrean Civil Aviation Authority the Ethio-Eritrean airspace has been partially opened for air transport operation as of Friday July 13. The authority issued a notice to all international aviation authorities.
Wossenyeleh said the air route that links Addis Ababa directly with Asmara via Mekelle is now opened for commercial flights. "There are about five air routes which were closed for the last twenty years. For the time being we have opened the air route that starts from Kenya passes through Addis Ababa-Mekelle to Asmara. The remaining air routes will be opened shortly after the necessary preparation works are done," he said.
The direct air route, which used to be known by its code UG650, is now renamed UM308. ECAA wrote a letter to ICAO and got a greenlight to open the air route. ECAA officials - for the first time in 20 years -communicated with their Eritrean counterparts on Thursday. Wossenyeleh talked to Paulos Kassaye, director general of the Eritrean Civil Aviation Authority.
ECAA has established a temporary air traffic communication system and procedure. The authority has written a letter to Paulos notifying him of the reopening of the air route as of July 13. Wossenyeleh said additional four air routes will be opened in due course.
The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments signed Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) on September27, 1993. Ethiopian Airlines is the designated airline from Ethiopian side while Eritrean Airlines is the designated airline from the Eritrean side. "It is a good bilateral air service agreement that allows fourth and fifth freedom rights. Thus there is no need to sign a new agreement," a senior executive of Ethiopian Airlines told The Reporter.
It is not only Ethiopian Airlines that uses the Ethio-Eritrean airspace. Many international airlines and private jets use the air routes to fly to and from Europe and the Middle East. Ethiopian Airlines used to fly to the Middle East and Europe crossing the Eritrean airspace. When the war broke out it was compelled to change air routes via Sudan and Djibouti. This has increased flight time and fuel consumption. When the air space is fully open Ethiopian will be able to use the old routes and reduce flight time and fuel consumption. Other international airlines will also be able to use the airspace. ECAA will also collect navigation fees from the international flights that cross the airspace.
Due to the blockade, when Prime Minister Abiy traveled to Eritrea last week, he his aircraft - Boeing 737-800 NG - was forced to fly via Djibouti. Now with the reopening of the airspace, President Isaias Afewerki will enter Ethiopia using the direct Addis Ababa-Asmara route - UM308.