EAC must  reopen its skies in time for peak tourism

06Aug 2020
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
EAC must  reopen its skies in time for peak tourism

Air travel is a form of travel in vehicles such as helicopters, hot air balloons, blimps, gliders, hang glider, parachuting, airplanes, jet aircraft, or anything else that can sustain flight.  Use of air travel has greatly increased in recent decades – worldwide it doubled between the mid-1980s .

Air travel can be separated into two general classifications: national/domestic and international flights. Flights from one point to another within the same country are called domestic flights. Flights from a point in one country to a point within a different country are known as international flights. Travelers can use domestic or international flights in either private or public travel.

The East African Business Council in July, this years   called upon East African Community (EAC) partner states to open up their skies to allow free movement of people and cargo.

This comes as apart from Tanzania, other regional blocks are still grappling with the consequences of Covid :19 pandemic.

While Tanzania has already opened up its skies and airports, the EABC is urging the remaining five EAC to fast track opening of air transport services to boost regional trade, tourism and hospitality sectors.

It is good news that  the national carrier, RwandAir   resumed flights to Tanzania  after almost five months since the airline suspended operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has taken a heavy toll on industry.

This follows the government decision to reopen airport operations for commercial flights.

According to RwandAir chief executive officer, Yvonne Manzi Makolo, the carrier has embarked on a gradual reopening strategy like many other airlines across the world.

 RwandAir will start with the African routes that are already open - the airline operates more destinations in Africa, flying to about 24 destinations across the region.

2020 is said to be the worst year in aviation history and airlines are in survival mode. Air travel demand has significantly decreased with little confidence from passengers.

A June survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) indicated that 58 per cent of people avoided air travel due to Covid-19, but the number expecting to continue to avoid air travel in the future could fall to 33 per cent.

 RwandAir    highlighted that it is putting all health and safety measures in place across all touch points, asserting that the demand for air travel will grow gradually.

Experts predict it will, however, take a few years for the industry to get back to 2019 levels of activity.

Governments will, therefore, need to continue providing financial relief and assistance to airlines as well as flexibility in slot usage.

The East African Business Council appreciates the measures by the EAC partner states aimed at supporting the resumption of domestic and international flights in the region. This is vital for the recovery of the aviation sector in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Tanzania resumed international flights on 18th of May while chartered flights in Rwanda restarted on 18th June. Kenya was expected to open  domestic air travel last month.

During the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, EAC partner states permitted air cargo services and inventively used passenger aircraft for cargo operations, facilitating EAC exports of fresh produce and mitigating the impact of COVID-19 on these economies.

The partner states need to come up with coordinated guidelines and measures on the opening of the regional aviation sector to bolster consumer confidence and supporting the recovery of the sector, the council emphasised.

In opening regional air transport services, partner states’ ingenuity should consider temporarily implement tenets of the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD),, its fifth to ninth freedom rights. These provisions effectively increase capacity, reduce inefficiencies and costs like waiving landing fees.

Excise duty on aviation fuel, navigation, landing, parking and COVID-19 related fees to reduce operating costs would also be reviewed, along with the reduction of permit obligation and fees for service providers within the region.

Indeed opening the regional aviation sector will stimulate economic activities in the sector and in tourism, hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.