Makolo: Dump restrictive BASA, protectionism to grow aviation in Africa

The Chief Executive Officer of RwandAir, Yvonne Manzi Makolo said the only way to grow the airline business in Africa is to do away with restricting Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA), stressing that doing so would amount to lip services by African governments in the liberalization of air transport in the continent.

She called for the continent’s political leaders to speed the implementation of the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM), a project of the African Union.

Makolo

Once completely in force, the single market is expected to allow significant freedom of air transport in Africa, advancing the AU’s Agenda 2063.

She further stated that protectionism is the core of the problem that has seriously slowed down the implementation of SAATM in spite signing of the agreement by 35 African countries including Nigeria.

Aviation protectionism is simply preventing other airlines from operating in a country principally due to the fact that governments want to protect their national carriers. This doesn’t give room to competition; a variety of products and is against the open skies principles. It rather breeds inefficiency, monopolies, and outright failure to provide the consumer (travelers) with various choices to decide.

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Speaking to Aviation Metric at the just concluded International Air Transport Association (IATA) Annual General Meeting in Istanbul, Turkey last week, Makolo frowned at the long period it is taking the continent to harmonise its air transport policy, saying the topic had been on since she joined the industry many years ago with the slow implementation.

She said, “SAATM is a no-brainer when you say that you want to grow aviation within the continent, there is no way that can happen with restrictions in terms of who is restricting BASAs like the type of aircraft you are going to use, whether they give you Fifth Freedom or not, frequencies that you are going to operate.”

“That just won’t work. We have been talking about SAATM for a very long time since I joined the industry that has been the number one topic. What I am happy about is the fact that the decision had been made to start with pilot countries: the ones that are ready because right now, we have about 35 countries that are signatories. Even the ones that have signed up for it are not necessarily implementing it. The ones who are ready to actually implement can start and hopefully, when other countries see the benefits, they can come onboard.”

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Beyond SAATM, RwandAir’s chief equally pointed to the difficult visa regime in the continent and what makes it so difficult for people to move in the continent. To her, it is one of the biggest barriers to allowing free trade and movement of people within the continent and one that hurts SAATM.

Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote 2018 said he needed 38 visas to travel within the continent on his Nigerian passport. Many European nationals, meanwhile, waltz into most African countries visa-free.

The Agenda 2063 flagship project, “The African Passport and Free Movement of People” aims to remove restrictions on Africans’ ability to travel, work and live within their own continent.

The initiative aims at transforming Africa’s laws, which remain generally restrictive on the movement of people despite political commitments to bring down borders with the view to promoting the issuance of visas by Member States to enhance the free movement of all African citizens in all African countries.

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Makolo disclosed that her airline’s huge fund stuck in Nigeria has led it to shrink its operations, adding that the situation puts a strain on its operations and little it can do in the market.

 “We should be flying not only daily but double daily but we are not able to do that because we don’t know when we are going to get our money out. So, we had to shrink a bit of our operations to Lagos and Abuja but we hope that once this issue is resolved, we will really go out to capture that market because it is a strong market.

African airlines

“We are looking up at even growing our presence further there and the same thing within the African countries. The potential is huge. There are still markets that are not served well. We are looking forward to filling those. We are really focused on really connecting RwandAir to the rest of African countries and beyond the African continent.”

Wole Shadare