July 7, 2022

Battle for East African Airspace Takes New Twist

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Inside the business class of RwandAir which is battling other Regional carriers for supremacy

The plan by the East African Community (EAC) members states to harmonize air travel within the region has received another major setback – a move likely to bring renewed fights within the bloc.

Uganda has gone behind the back of other member states to implement new changes to it’s airport taxes, leaving others perhaps wondering about Kampala’s intentions. Uganda’s new changes were announced in budget speech on June 14 by the country’s Finance Minister but the real figures are only becoming public.

In August last year, Transport and Communication ministers from the EAC partner states chaired by Kenya agreed to review air travel costs within the region.

At the time, the EAC included Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan. Last month, DR Congo also joined the family as newest member.

The review process of the air travel regime, according to the agreed framework, was to include the harmonisation of air travel policies of each partner state, examination of the factors that determine air ticket costs and development of uniform air travel regulations.

The EAC Secretariat in Arusha Tanzania even went farther, asking airlines to submit list of charges and taxes they incur when they fly into any of the regional neighbors.

Traveling by air in East Africa has been determined as far more expensive by international standards. The expensive rates on both passenger and cargo flights automatically contribute to the high cost of doing business in the region.

A passenger airline ticket between Entebbe and Nairobi costs $380 on average while that between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam is between $350 and $400 for economy class.

Now, in changes by Uganda, it has scrapped taxes on airlines using the Entebbe International Airport, a move that will make it cheaper for transiting passengers to travel through the facility.

In Entebbe, passengers have been paying up to $47 in airport taxes when compared to Kenya’s JKIA $50, a cost that airlines pass to passengers. In Rwanda the rate is $37, and $20 in Burundi per passenger.

With Uganda removing it’s charges, leaves the plans for harmonization across the region in disarray. Now, airlines may begin to prefer to stop at Entebbe than Nairobi or Kigali because they will incur less flight costs.

The new trade war front comes as all EAC members have a problem with another. Kenya and Tanzania are fighting over some trade policies. Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and DR Congo have security concerns against the other.

As if the trouble waters are not enough, there is more. An analysis by The East African newspaper in February 2018 found a whole lot of problems with our region’s travel industry.

For example, a traveller from Uganda or Burundi cannot fly directly to Dar es Salaam, despite the two countries sharing a border with Tanzania. To fly to Dar es Salaam, one is forced to make a connection through Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) or Rwanda’s Kigali International Airport.

A longer route via Addis Ababa, which has the lowest airfare of $390, will add six hours to the journey to Dar es Salaam.

Similarly, flying from Kigali to Arusha can take longer than anticipated, because direct flights are not always available, forcing the travellers on this route to either go through Nairobi or Dar es Salaam to catch a connecting flight.

Rwanda, with President Paul Kagame at the forefront, has been mobilising the continent to cut air costs. At a sector gathering in early February 2018, some 23 African countries, including Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia, adopted the long-awaited Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), guaranteeing a 25 per cent decrease in airfares, with the benefits set to trickle in mid this year.

Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi did not sign the agreement, meaning that more than 1.7 million travellers who fly from the region to these countries would wait longer to enjoy these benefits.

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