Representatives from member states constituting COMESA are meeting in Kigali to come up with concrete strategies on easing air travel.
COMESA comprises 19 countries.
Rwanda’s Minister of State in charge of Transport, Dr Alex Nzahabwanimana, told the delegates to give priority to eliminating trade barriers.
“Our Heads of State expressed their political commitment to liberalise our skies because they know the benefits it would bring to our people,” Nzahabwanimana said while opening the meeting Tuesday.
“If, within COMESA, we can remove all unnecessary barriers, this project of liberalised skies can easily spread the open sky culture.”
The Kigali meeting is the ninth for the project steering committee on the technical and financial feasibility study of the COMESA airspace project.
Safe, efficient and cost effective air navigation services, it is believed, will support the region’s trade, tourism and regional socio-economic integration.
“You have all experienced the consequences of hindrances to free movement in air travel. We now need to focus on how we can move quickly,” Dr Nzahabwanimana added.
Earlier this year, a study indicated that airspace liberalisation between five East African Community (EAC) member countries would result in an additional 46,320 jobs and $202.1 million (nearly Rwf 165 billion) annually.
This policy brief by the East African Business Council (EABC) and the East Africa Research Fund (EARF) shows that aviation liberalisation leads to increased traffic volumes, greater connectivity and choice, as well as 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 EAC study indicated.
Dr Nzahabwanimana pointed out that in the case of Rwanda, the airspace is not only open to countries that reciprocate but to all Africans. “By removing barriers, we are improving the lives of our people.”
About four years ago, the COMESA Secretariat secured $10 million (nearly Rwf8 billion) from the African Development Bank to implement its airspace integration project.
Amb. Kipyego Cheluget, the bloc’s assistant secretary general, conceded that despite a COMESA treaty that gives direction on the issue, there is little indication of progress.
Experts suggest that the bloc needs to have a common control international centre which would lead to efficiency, improved safety and cost effectiveness in the aviation industry.
Member countries currently operate their airspaces individually, a model that leads to contribute to high costs of operations and air travel.
Under the region’s airspace integration project, the region seeks to harmonise rules, standards and procedures.
Once the cost of operating an aircraft is reduced, officials say, airlines will also reduce the cost of tickets and more people will afford air travel.
During the Aviation Africa 2017 forum held in Kigali earlier this year, it was noted that airlines in Africa reported a loss of about $800 million in 2016 largely due to regulation of African airspace.