Dar es Salaam — In the event of intensified competition in the air transportation business in East Africa's airspace, aviation experts and other stakeholders say the time could be ripe for localising flights across the region.
Generally, domestication of flights in this context means that a flight from any of the six-member nations of the East African Community (EAC) would not be considered as an international flight but, rather, a domestic flight.
The Uganda High Commissioner to Tanzania, Mr Richard Kabonero, last week suggested the domestication of the region's air space - and, that there should be code-sharing agreements among the airlines operating across the EAC region with a view to reducing the cost of air transport while increasing efficiency at the same time.
Reacting to the proposal, the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) director general, Mr Hamza Johari, said a thorough analysis was required before arriving at a decision to 'domesticate' the EAC skies.
"Liberalisation of air transport shouldn't be rushed. Adequate preparations are needed. We need to establish what such a decision would mean for local airlines as well as revenue," Mr Johari cautioned.
The Tanzania Airports Authority (TAA) director general, Mr Julius Ndyamukama, said the Authority was able, willing and ready to adjust to changes, as long as the EAC member states agree to turn the bloc into 'a single country' in as far as the aviation sector is concerned.
"We will be ready to facilitate all airlines across the region which land at our airports, and treat them equally as 'local airlines' - as long as the EAC member states would have agreed on all terms," he said.
The 'domestication' proposal comes at a time when competition in the air transport business in the region is becoming intense. This is especially with the recent revival of Uganda Airlines which touched down on Kenyan and Tanzanian soils on August 27th and 30th respectively.
Uganda Airlines now joins Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL), Kenya Airways (KA) and RwandaAir in the scramble for the EAC aviation market. Stressing his domestication proposal, Mr Kabonero said "I understand it is a long-term process which requires full cooperation of the (EAC) governments."
Speaking during his courtesy visit to the head office of Mwananchi Communications Limited - publishers of The Citizen, Mwananchi and Mwanaspoti newspapers - Mr Kobonero said, "I understand it is a long term-process, which requires cooperation among governments. For instance, fights between Kilimanjaro to Entebbe should not be treated as international route flights."
His argument is built on the ground that international flights are costlier than domestic ones in terms of passenger service charges, security fees and parking charges.
Going by TAA figures, passenger service charges stand at Sh10,000 and $40 (Sh92,000) for domestic and international passengers respectively.
Security fees (which are incorporated in air fares) are fixed at Sh5,000 for local travel tickets and $5 for international passenger tickets.
Parking charges for Aircraft of up to 20,000Kg stand at Sh1,000 per 12 hours for airlines registered in Tanzania - and $5 (Sh11,500) for foreign-registered airlines.
Mr Kabonero said that, in wider efforts to ensure that the Uganda national airline survived in the EA skies, Uganda is advocating code-sharing with Air Tanzania.
According to the International Air Transport Association (Iata), code sharing is meant to facilitate network expansion at minimum cost as the partnering airlines would stand a chance of issuing tickets on behalf of each other for the shared routes.
These two airlines (UA and ATCL) need to cooperate - otherwise they would die, he warned.
"ATCL is already flying to Entebbe; but there days when it doesn't make it! So: why don't the two national carriers embrace code-sharing so that they can fly throughout the week?" he asked.
This, he added, would help the two to become competitive enough to fly not only within the region, but also beyond the African continent, he said - adding that ATCL is very strong in Southern Africa because of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) market.
For its part, Uganda Airlines is strong in the Entebbe-Mogadishu and or Entebbe-Juba routes.
Commenting on the matter, the ATCL managing director, Mr Ladislaus Matindi, told The Citizen that they were ready for code-sharing with Uganda Airlines - but on condition that the interests of both parties would be taken into account.
"If you want to have better code-sharing, a commercial arrangement is a must. It creates room for expansion of airlines' reach without committing money and will enable us compete with large airlines," he said.