African aviation liberalisation may finally move forward over the next 12 months, as a new executing agency formally takes up its mandate.
Earlier this year the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) was legally accepted as the executing agency for the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision, the liberalisation vehicle which came into force in 2001. AFCAC reports to the African Union.
For years critics have said the process has moved too slowly, but AFCAC secretary general Boubacar Djibo insists that things are moving forward.
"What was missing in the process is we didn't adopt continental regulation," he says. "It has taken time for us to select and adopt AFCAC as the executing agency, in charge of consumer protection, competition rules and general economic protection, ensuring there is a level playing field for airlines."
Djibo spoke to ATI at the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) general assembly in Addis Ababa. "If we have continental liberalisation process and fair competition, we have to ensure everything is consistent, such as which commercial, competition, taxation and charges rules apply," he says.
He says AFCAC is taking a two-pronged approach to its task. On one hand, Djibo is planning to secure African airline backing by working closely with incoming AFRAA secretary general Elijah Chingosho, who will lead the body from January.
"Whatever we can arrange, let's do it," says Djibo. "We are represented here [at the AFRAA meeting] and will meet before the end of the year to see what we can do together. Even if airlines are not able to codeshare, they can at least interline. Right now some are doing neither."
AFRAA has already brought together its most pro-liberalisation carriers - dubbed CREW, the 'Club of the Ready and Willing states' - to set an example for other carriers and implement the Yamoussoukro Decision at national level.
"We have called on our member airlines to support Yamoussoukro and tell their member states to open up their markets," says AFRAA acting secretary general Tewodros Tamrat. "We have proposed that the states which are ready and have an interest should go ahead among themselves and their open market so others can follow."
On a more formal, legal basis, AFCAC is hampered by the pan-African parliament's lacking legally-binding powers. Djibo says this should happen "very soon", noting that AFCAC has presented its case and wants aviation to be among the first remits for the body after this occurs.
"This is a process which we are not in control of, but what we can say is we are hoping to adopt some regulation at technical level in maybe one year. Whatever is agreed has to be adopted in all four languages, which can be a slow process," he says.
While AFCAC is now responsible for the oversight of the African liberalisation process, regional economic committees are in charge of managing its implementation.
These include the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, the Southern African Development Community, and the East African Community, which are working together. The Economic Community of West African States and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa have also teamed up.
Djibo says this means just the northern parts of Africa are missing. "Half of Africa has already begun harmonising," he says.
The key question remains how long the process will take. "We know we are late and cannot develop if we do not implement clear liberalisation processes for everybody. Until we sit down and talk about it, I don't know. I would say in two to three years it could be finished," says Djibo.
But he adds: "Based on the good will of airlines [through the AFRAA talks] some progress might come in six months to one year, if we really sit on a regular basis and agree on some guidelines."