A recent article about a new BASA between Kenya and Angola, in which I wrote, tongue in cheek that additional flights from Nairobi to Luanda appear to be coming one new BASA at a time, provoked much feedback and overwhelming agreement with the position taken, that Angola today remains one of the most restrictive airspaces in Africa and that clearly the Yamoussoukro Agreements played no role in the country’s aviation policies, other than perhaps mere lip-service.
The news two days ago, that Emirates has been invited to manage the Angolan national airline for the next 10 years, while no doubt setting in motion moves to improve TAAG’s safety and operational performance and inject financial discipline and accountability to higher standards, also comes with a grain of salt.
Emirates, today the world’s largest international airline, connecting the world and in particular connecting Africa to the world, has often seen African governments throw traffic rights at them when at the same time African airlines had prolonged and often agonizing waits to endure before they were, and at times were not, given traffic rights.
Today less than a quarter of all outbound traffic from Africa is carried by the continental big league, comprising Ethiopian, Kenya Airways, South African Airways and Egypt Air while the rest of the passengers are flying on foreign airlines.
These disparities have also not escaped the attention of aviation regulators on other continents and Canada is a case in point where the Gulf airlines in general and Emirates in particular are given limited market access, to rightly or wrongly and there opinions will surely differ, invoke the principle of reciprocity and keeping strategic interests of having a functioning national aviation sector, intact.
When Emirates first spread their wings back in the mid 1980’s, they clearly saw a niche for them to grow into, and with literally no flying restrictions – night flight bans are unheard of in the Gulf – and the cheap aviation fuel, they soon became a growing and then a major force in world aviation before reaching the level that legacy carriers from Europe and America woke up and finally figured out what had happened in the intervening period. Until then were traffic rights happily given by European countries, but no longer is that the case today.
Back to Africa though and the topic at hand. With Emirates taking management control of TAAG, it can be expected that access to Angola will not only remain difficult but become more difficult yet as the new partnership will no doubt seek to build a route network from and to Luanda which can feed into the departures of Emirates – wait and see when, not if, frequencies will increase – and of TAAG which already flies to Dubai too.
A seasoned regulator staff from Nairobi, who has dealt with bilateral negotiations and applications by airlines from abroad wishing to fly into Kenya, said on condition of anonymity that: ‘… after the haggling with Angola over traffic rights, and we are not the only country having these issues, for all I know Yamoussoukro is today a more distant vision than it was when the agreements were originally signed. We Africans are doing ourselves no favour in restricting access to our markets by African airlines. AFRAA is right to fight this trend and national governments need to look beyond the big names from the Gulf and from Europe and America, but mainly from the Gulf. They have a role to play, but they are here to make money and the money they make from the African markets is revenue denied to our own airlines. It is a fine line one must draw but it is time we draw that line. I rather see our own Kenya Airways compete head on with Ethiopian and South African, which is also a clash of two airline alliances of course, than compete with the Gulf giants. Better even, if African airlines could cooperate more closely they would stand a better chance to survive long term’.