Tanzania five years away from joining open skies

What you need to know:

  • The five-year timeframe will be crucial for indigenous operators to more suitably and strategically get ready to compete equally with other African major airlines.

Dar es Salaam. Foreign airlines will have to wait for at least five years to start carrying passengers from Tanzania to another country while en-route to/from a home country, as the government demands more time before opening the skies.

Like other African countries that are protecting domestic operators, currently, a foreign airline can carry passengers from its country of origin, land in Tanzania and pick up traffic to the airline’s home country, but not to other foreign countries.

However, under the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999, African countries want to do away with protectionism by opening up Africa’s skies and creating a unified air transport market for the continent.

Asked about the government’s position on the long-awaited plan, Transport permanent secretary Gabriel Migire told The Citizen yesterday that Tanzania will do so gradually.

“Liberalisation of African skies is a good idea but we need to open it strategically,” Mr Migire responded to the question.

“Let’s give ourselves five years to pave the way to preparing local operators to compete fairly,” he added.

Until last month, 34 of the African Union (AU)’s 55 members, representing about 80 percent of Africa’s airline traffic, had indicated support for the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), according to official data.

Of those, 17 have ratified their commitment and are involved in the pilot implementation project (PIP). They are Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Ghana, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Zambia, Niger and Gabon.

Mr Migire promised that the government will try its level best to create an enabling business environment for domestic operators to be competitive.

He said that his ministry was preparing the Air Transport Stakeholders meeting slated for the end of this month or earlier next month.

During the meeting, stakeholders will discuss challenges that they are grappling with and chart a way forward.

“It is advantageous to open the African skies as competition will drive operating efficiencies, which, in turn, will reduce the cost of air transport and the cost of doing business (in Africa),” said Mr Migire.

Tanzania Air Operators Association (Taoa) executive secretary Lathifa Sykes cautiously welcomed positive changes.

“We are open for positive changes. But the government must ensure that domestic operators and the economy at large do not lose,” cautioned Ms Sykes as she spoke to The Citizen yesterday.

She further added: “The government needs to create a conducive environment for us to be competitive. As of now, we can’t compete.”

She was of the view that the government should look at other countries’ laws and policies so that all African countries could be on the same page and eventually compete on a level playing field.

Aviation expert with decades of experience Juma Fimbo welcomed the government’s decision to give itself five years before ratifying the Yamoussoukro Decision.

During the period, he opined, efforts should be made to promote local airlines and attract foreign investors to come here and invest in Tanzania’s aviation industry.

“Ratifying the Yamoussoukro Decision before preparing local players for competition will be like killing our own aviation industry and economy at large,” warned Mr Fimbo.

To put things into perspective, walking the talk on the Yamoussoukro Decision could mean providing freedom to carry traffic between two foreign countries on a flight that either originated in or is destined for the carrier’s home country.

This suggests that Tanzania’s airlines would now have to compete for customers with giant airlines like South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, EgyptAir, Royal Air Maroc, Air Algerie and Kenya Airways.

Going by the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) data, Tanzania’s aviation industry is predominated by Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) - commanding 52.9 percent of market shares, followed by Precision Air and Auric Air with 22.8 percent and 10.3 percent respectively.

With three percent of local market share, Coastal Travels was ranked at fourth place in 2021, followed by As Salaam Air at 2.8 percent, while other airlines shared 8.6 percent of the market shares.

The open skies for Africa concept was first mooted by the World Bank in November 1988 and adopted by the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) as the Yamoussoukro Declaration.

A lack of support from member states of the OAU and its successor, the African Union (AU), saw it undergo changes in 1999 and again in 2016 when it was repackaged as SAATM and launched by the AU in 2018.

Iata supports the opening up of Africa’s skies and the associated regulatory reform to create greater connectivity.