After 26 years with little progress, can Africa finally see Open Skies in 2017? That's the plan, and it's being shepherded through by AFCAC secretary general Iyabo Sosina, who spoke with Victoria Moores at November's AFRAA general assembly in Brazzaville.
Liberalisation is a moving train – you either get on board, get left behind, or get knocked down.
“How many people get hit by a train and survive?” observed African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) secretary general Iyabo Sosina, the formidable lady who is responsible for making intra-African liberalisation happen by June 2017.
Despite her pivotal role and the Herculean task still ahead, Sosina remains friendly and approachable. She is quietly self-assured, underpinned by an air of strength and determination that shows she means business. That business is creating a single African air transport market (SAATM), enabling the continent’s airlines to fly freely from one point to another.
“It is the airlines in this room that acted against the Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD),” she told delegates at the African Airline Association (AFRAA) annual general assembly in Congo- Brazzaville. “We have seen a change of attitude, apart from one or two. I’m looking forward to doing things as we’re supposed to do them by global standards. We will do away with bilaterals and simply exchange rights.”
Back in 1988, a group of African states agreed deregulating intra-African flights would be a good thing, leading to the YD, which became fully binding for 44 African countries in 2002. Sosina has been given just two years to deliver that vision, which has faltered for 26 years.
She told a story of how it costs more for her sister to travel across Africa to visit than it does to go to London. “To fly from west Africa to Dakar, it costs $1,500. Why shouldn’t we fly to the UK instead, giving us another $500 to spend while we’re there? If your product is not up to standard, you are cheating your people. Why should you pay for mediocrity?”
But change is happening. In January 2015, 11 African heads of state – representing Benin, Cape Verde, Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe – signed up to deliver intra- African open skies by the June 2017 deadline. Since then, another two – Ghana and Sierra Leone – have come on board.
However, Sosina wants more. By the next African Union (AU) heads-of-state summit, to be held in Addis Ababa in January 2016, she wants 20 countries signed up. “I have a good feeling. Fifteen is the number we are looking for but I am more ambitious. I have been talking to the national civil aviation authorities (CAAs) and I know quite a lot are close, so we are working to get ministerial approval. I would not be surprised if, by January, we actually exceed the 20-state target.”
AFCAC has been given legal powers to police intra-African liberalisation, acting as an arbitrator between states. It has come up with dispute settlement, competition and consumer protection rules, and signed up the 13 countries, but there is plenty more to be done.
The AU ministers have given AFCAC a roadmap and series of deadlines, which Sosina is translating into a detailed action plan and budget. She also needs to prepare a progress report ahead of the AU meeting.
This will involve coming up with a detailed organogram, establishing how many people and how much money are needed to get Africa’s open sky operational. She needs to train up AFCAC staff, investigators, national inspectors, a whole continent of CAAs, along with people in each of Africa’s eight regional economic communities (RECs).
“Training and awareness are extremely important, to make sure we are all on the same page,” she said. AFCAC is working together with AFRAA, the AU, RECs and the International Air Transport
Association (IATA) on an intensive awareness campaign to educate countries on the “urgent need” to fully implement YD. The body is also proposing that November 14 should be designated as YD Day, to be celebrated by all AU member states and stakeholders.
Beyond this, Sosina’s team is working on secondary regulation, outlining the implementing steps for countries that have already signed.
Is June 2017 too fast? “I confess it is,” she replied, “But if we don’t have an ambitious deadline, we won’t move at the speed we need to get there.”
Sosina is almost on schedule and remains confident of hitting the 2017 deadline, although this will depend on funding.
“Funding is a major issue. If it is not in place, it might slow us down. AFCAC has a limited number of staff – just a director of air transport, an air transport officer and legal advisers – and that is not enough,” she said.
AFCAC is hoping to minimise duplication by tapping into existing national and regional resources where it can. With that in mind, it has drafted a memorandum of understanding with the RECs, proposing a training schedule for 2015 to 2018, along with a draft framework for enhanced “cooperation, collaboration, coordination and harmonisation” of roles. This draft has been sent to the AU Commission for consideration and immediate implementation.
Once 2017 comes around and the framework for liberalisation is in place, AFCAC will deal with the ‘nitty-gritty’ such as disputes and legal tribunals. But, in the meantime, Sosina has her work cut out.
“It may seem as though the pace of implementation is slow but if the proper paperwork is not done well and properly implemented, it will create chaos and undermine the system. We have waited a long time for this; when the process takes off, it must be smooth,” Sosina said.