Asked how the East African Community (EAC) can attain open skies and hence liberalise air transport, Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente on Thursday, July 21, noted that political will, and the removal of all restrictions in air transport services, is his simple answer. Ngirente was speaking in Arusha, Tanzania, as EAC Heads of State held a high level retreat on the now seven-member bloc’s Common Market. They were, among others, taking stock of the progress of implementation of the EAC Common Market Protocol, the second pillar of the bloc’s integration agenda. He said: “I won’t say that question is easy but I will make the answer very simple. We just have to remove aĺl restrictions in air transport services. “There is some decision which was made more than 10 years ago; the Yammossoukro decision or agreement. If we take that agreement and start to implement it in our East African Community, I think that will make all things easier in terms of air transport.” What’s the Yamoussoukro Decision all about? A 2010 World Bank study explained how liberalized air transport would deliver improved safety, lower fares, and increase traffic in Africa. According to the study, Open Skies for Africa – Implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision, part of the reason for Africa’s under-served status is that countries restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers. African ministers responsible for civil aviation, in 1999, adopted the Yamoussoukro Decision, named after the Ivorian city in which it was agreed. The Yamoussoukro Decision calls for, among others: full liberalization of intra-African air transport services in terms of access, capacity, frequency, and tariffs; free exercise of first, second, third, fourth and fifth freedom rights for passenger and freight air services by eligible airlines (these rights enable, among others, non-national carriers to land in a state and take on traffic coming from or destined for a third state); and liberalized tariffs and fair competition. It commits signatory countries to deregulate air services, and promote regional air markets open to transnational competition. In 2000, the Decision was endorsed by African leaders and it became fully binding in 2002 but implementation has always fallen short. Six years ago, a regional study on the economic impact of liberalisation indicated that airspace liberalisation between Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi could result in an additional 46,320 jobs and $202.1 million (approx: Rwf 164.5 billion) annually in GDP. The September 2016 policy briefing by the East African Business Council (EABC) and the East Africa Research Fund (EARF) says a substantial body of research has repeatedly found that aviation liberalisation has led to increased traffic volumes, greater connectivity and choice, and lower fares. “Quantitative analysis, based on data from East Africa, provided robust and compelling evidence that liberalisation leads to 9% lower average fares and a 41% increase in frequencies, which in turn stimulate passenger demand,” the study said. Leaders reaffirm commitment to implement EAC Common Market Protocol The Summit, held under the chairmanship of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, noted that the Common Market was the best way to increase intra-regional trade and spur economic growth in the region. President Kenyatta said that infrastructure development was critical in attaining the region’s objective of being one big market stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. He said that East Africa would only attain the Common Market if its citizens were able to communicate easily, and to move and ferry goods freely across the region. Among other things, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said that there is no way the region could achieve prosperity if it doesn’t solve the issue of market size. Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye said that the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) of which Burundi is a member was not interlinked due to lack of cooperation in infrastructure development. Later, on Friday, July 22, the Heads of State will hold the 22nd Ordinary Summit at the Arusha International Conference Centre, in Arusha.