RAM chief calls for rapid implementation of African open skies

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African carriers should consider the needs of their passengers and finally implement open skies on the continent, according to Royal Air Maroc chief executive Driss Benhima.

"We have to consider what's more important, the passenger or the airline," Benhima told Flightglobal Pro at the African Airline Association's (AFRAA) 43rd annual general assembly in Marrakech, Morocco.

"The goal of civil aviation, especially for those in charge of civil aviation, is to increase frequency in countries and lower fares for passengers. Therefore, the liberation of the skies - which favours big carriers, whether they are low-cost or legacy - brings the solution."

He warned against the short-term strategy of African governments to protect routes and frequencies for their national carriers, which he said impedes the progress of civil aviation in those countries.

"For the citizens of Africa and for the economic development of Africa, holding back air transport by impeding the liberalisation of our skies is not a sustainable policy. It's a rearguard defensive action," he said.

Benhima added that when Morocco signed an open skies agreement with the European Union at the end of 2006, Royal Air Maroc was "taken by surprise" and was "forced to restructure in the middle of battle".

He said it was important for airlines in Africa which did not have open skies in their countries to anticipate its arrival and make the necessary changes to their companies "before battle commences".

Although liberalisation of Morocco's skies has caused "enormous difficulties" for his airline, Benhima said the policy had achieved "spectacular results".

"Which is better, having a national company which suffers and restructures or a national company that survives, but survives to the detriment of its clients, the passengers? It's [the passengers] that are important, not the airline," he said.