The official opening of the headquarters of CASSOA, the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency of the East African Community member states in Entebbe last weekend provided a platform for EAC Secretary General to spell out a few truths, which some of the countries within the community did not like to hear.
Richard Sezibera reminded member countries that their main competition was not within the East African Community but with countries beyond the EAC, when he called for the swift removal of non tariff barriers, many of which treat EAC registered airlines like foreign airlines when it comes to flying within the EAC.
Aviators from for instance Uganda claim that in order to get clearance to fly into Tanzania it often takes up to 72 hours, defeating the principal purpose of air transport being the fastest means of getting from one point to the next, as swimming across the lake would be faster, well almost as one regular source from the aviation fraternity in Kajjansi put it to this correspondent when discussing the situation. The same source also claimed that fees charged, which should be the same as for domestic airlines in Tanzania, still are charged as if we were foreign based airlines and access to the national parks, where most of our clients would want to go, remains impossible. The entire talk of integrating the region, as far as air transport is concerned, is a big farce. If one country consistently refuses to live up to treaty obligations, it should decide once and for all if it wants to be an EAC member. If yes, lift the restrictions, if not get out was the angry feedback to a follow up question.
Meanwhile did the Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly, Ugandas Margaret Zziwa, also add her voice during the function to bringing cost of air transport down, when comparing the charges between Nairobi and Mombasa with those between Entebbe and Nairobi, almost the same distance. Perhaps unbeknown to her though is the sad fact that the current set of airfares in place between the member states of the EAC is in fact quite reasonable, while it is taxes and fees levied on flights by the regulators and airport managers which often are totaling to twice of what the base fare is, then giving the impression that it is the airlines which profiteer. It is here that the inflated national regulatory set up should also give way to a regional integrated civil aviation body, to save on overheads, share human and other resources in a more efficient way and in the process eliminate the often duplicated or triplicated processes of applications, permit and licensing, currently needed to satisfy the demands by each regulator should an airline registered in one member country seek permission to operate in another. But with often highly paid jobs at stake here, that process is like pulling teeth without anesthetic as individuals resist stubbornly as mules to the necessary changes to make the regional civil aviation regulatory bodies more user friendly, bring cost down and cut out administrative red tape. Watch this space.