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Arab carriers need more open regulatory environment

To continue their rapid growth Arab carriers need a more open regulatory environment with more commonality across the region, says Arab Air Carriers Organisation (AACO) secretary general Abdul Wahab Teffaha

Arab carriers have come a long way over the past decade. Back in 1988, Arab carriers accounted for only 2% of the world's passenger traffic. Today it is approaching 10%. At the same time load factors have improved, and today Arab airlines mostly operate at an average load factor approaching 80%.

Back in 1988 Arab carriers had a fleet of less than 150 aircraft with an average capacity of 170 seats. Today the fleet consists of over 600 aircraft with an average capacity of 210 seats.

Over this time, the Arab Air Carriers Organisation has grown with its members. In 1998 the annual general assembly attracted 70 attendees. The last meeting, held in late October in ­Damascus, attracted more than 300.

We at AACO are proud of this growth and the role Arab carriers are now playing in turning their major airports into international hubs. We affirm that this role will not halt. This growth shall continue, regardless of what is said of Arab airlines.

But it is time now for the Arab world to open up and adopt liberal air transport policies. A more liberal environment is needed for Arab carriers to continue growing and to better serve their home region.

This is why we believe the Arab world is at a crossroads when it comes to aviation. We need to encourage the Arab governments to adopt more liberal air transport policies and ease the current restrictions. In particular, we need to liberalise airline ownership rules and open up access to all markets. Without more liberal conditions Arab airlines cannot continue to profit from the outstanding geographic location of the Arab world, or to maintain the substantial growth at hand today.

The evolution of the Arab regulatory environment is very slow despite the efforts of AACO and the Arab Civil Aviation Commission. We have been unable so far to persuade governments to implement a multilateral convention for the liberalisation of air transport. Liberalisation of air transport regulations in the Arab world has so far only worked domestically in certain countries such as in United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Bahrain, Oman and a few others.

There also have been a few examples of successes between Arab and non-Arab parties, such as Morocco's liberalised aviation agreement with the European Union. But there has been a lack of success stories when it comes to Arab countries working with other Arab countries to liberalise air ­transport regulations.

The problem in the development of the Arab regulatory picture in terms of market access and privatisation is that we follow the European experience, which is an effective example, but without the constitutional and legal tools that paved the way for it.

The absence of these tools will always lead to a significant time lapse between Arab political decisions and their application on the collective Arab level. This is true at a time when ­national initiatives advance with ­relative speed.

The continued absence of such tools and the pursuit of solely national agendas will lead to different regulatory regimes in different countries and policy fragmentation. This would preclude the presence of a coherent Arab regulatory environment in the foreseeable future. We as Arab airlines need to have an open Arab regulatory environment and to deal with others while making full use of the combined weight of our regional strength.

Arab airlines are now taking advantage of their geographical position, high quality of service, ease of transit in their airports and of the facilities available to travellers at their airports to create the global hubs of this century. They are taking advantage of the technological developments in aircraft and engine manufacturing that make air travel from practically any point on the globe to another possible with one stopover.

Also, the Arab airline hubs are providing a needed alternative for congested infrastructure in Europe, where new terminals can take more than 10 years to develop. But for the Arab airlines to continue their remarkable path of success we need a more liberal regulatory environment within the Arab world.

Arab carriers are starting to turn to privatisation and alliances as a tool for increasing their competitiveness.

AACO's 24 members

Afriqiyah Airways, Air Algerie, Air Arabia, Air Cairo, EgyptAir, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Gulf Air, Iraqi Airways, Jordan Aviation, Kuwait Airways, Libyan Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Oman Air, Palestinian Airlines, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Sudan Airways, Syrian Arab Airlines, TransMediterranean Airways, Tunis Air and Yemen Airways.

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