African free trade body, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), is trying to drive the continent towards a fully deregulated operating environment. Dubbed the Yamoussoukro treaty, this open skies agreement was implemented in 1999, but progress has been slow and patchy. Some efforts have come to fruition with the removal of capacity restrictions on routes between city pairs but, according to Kenya Airways, many African governments are yet to adhere to the treaty and remain overly protective of their markets.

Kenya Airways chairman Isaac Omolo Okero says that although COMESA member states have embraced the provisions of the open-skies treaty, the majority still deny unlimited access. Egypt has allowed Kenya Airways an additional seven flights a week, Rwanda has permitted an equal number and the Democratic Republic of Congo has agreed to five, while Ghana has granted an additional four frequencies into Accra. Capacity limitations between Kenya and the UK, as well as to Belgium, have been lifted, while Denmark, Norway and Sweden have allowed Kenya Airways-KLM codeshare flights.

Kenya Airways complains that the pace of liberalisation is not fast enough. The airline's director of corporate strategy Dr Jason Kap-kirwork says: "Most governments haven't signed the open skies agreement among themselves owing to political differences or security issues. However, progress has been made in terms of ownership and control issues. Many governments are now willing to privatise their airlines."

There is a risk that the longer the governments take to open up skies among themselves, the greater the chances that Western nations will sign bilaerals with individual African governments, increasing competition at a time when most African airlines cannot compete effectively.

Source: Flight International