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COMMENT: OPEN SKIES NEEDS ANOTHER PUSH IN AFRICA

Date published 11.09.2017

AIR access is always a crucial issue for destinations, particularly for a country like South Africa, which is a long way from all of its inbound markets. Nor is it any less important for its own outbound market. However, foreign carriers have created an abundance of seats to and from destinations beyond the African continent, even though many of them focus on connections over their own hubs, rather than direct services.

Without them, and bearing in mind the crisis at South African Airways, South Africa would be seriously isolated, with devastating consequences for business and tourism.

Reliance on foreign carriers now seems to be the future for South Africa as a dominant role by the national airline on international routes from its home market has deteriorated to such an extent that it is no longer recoverable.

Certainly the international carriers face challenges here. Airport and fuel costs are high and the exchange rate of the rand creates a problem with revenues at this end of the routes. But none of that has deterred the expansion of frequencies and capacity and new entrants into Johannesburg and Cape Town, even at this time when the economic and political situation in South Africa is so dire.

The Wesgro Air Access project in Cape has had significant success in helping to develop increased air services in and out of Cape Town. But that would not happen without a fundamental belief that markets at both ends would support the investment by the airlines.
They carry out extensive route evaluation studies themselves, looking at the viability of markets, demand, competition, aircraft availability and requirements, currency stability, fares, yields, local economies and potential drawbacks.

Startup costs for new entrants on a route are high. And no carrier wants a short-term service, followed by a suspension, although there are ways of addressing seasonal operations. So, South Africa has either been very lucky or the airlines do see sustainable potential.

The weakness in product has largely been in intra-African services. It was in November 1999 in the Ivory Coast that 44 African countries approved the Yamassoukro Decision, supposedly the advent of the liberalization of aviation and a fully open skies environment on the continent.

The aim was a single aviation market in Africa, with a comprehensive network of commercial aviation and direct services from north to south and east to west throughout the continent. But national protectionism and lack of will and implementation has held back progress in most countries. Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda and, to some extent, South Africa have been notable exceptions.

As the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagama, said at the Aviation Africa conference earlier this year: “Africa is more connected with other continents than it is with itself.” As Europe, Asia and the Americas reap the rewards of liberalisation, Africa is losing out when business and tourism to Africa and between African states could be transforming the continent.”


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