African countries still hesitant about open skies – expert

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Some African countries which signed the Single African Air Transport Market agreement are still hesitant about it, according to Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa.

Zweigenthal was speaking at the AviaDev aviation development conference in Cape Town on Thursday. He said many states indicated they are not ready for the liberalisation of the aviation industry in Africa, because they do not yet have a reliable local carrier. They first want to have the capacity to compete with other airlines before allowing these competitors access to their markets.

"There are some practical issues that still need to be solved, especially relating to policies. The same rules must apply to everybody," said Zweigenthal. "You cannot have exceptions to the rule."

In his view, there needs to be more cooperation among African states.

He said that for Africa's tourism and aviation industries to flourish, aviation must start punching above its weight.

In a video message Poppy Khoza, director of the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) said SA was one of the countries that signed the agreement.

She said SACAA must assist the SA government to fast track the creation of open skies on the continent.

"The single air market in Africa is not happening as fast as it should," said Khoza.

"Yet, the growth envisaged for Africa will demand a shift in how we do business."

She emphasised the importance of air transport regulators on the continent investing in innovation, smart technology and skills development.

"We invite the aviation industry to make the regulators part of the process from the start. We need a flexible approach to balance the open skies ideals with the need for compliance with international regulations," said Khoza.

"You cannot have open skies without sustainability of the aviation industry. It is also very important to focus on environmental issues as well as safety and security. Collaboration is key if we are to grow the industry and ensure the open skies goal becomes a success."

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