East African cooperation? NOT in the aviation industry it seems.


(Posted 25th November 2014)

This site has gained some level of notoriety of telling things the way they are, even if it means to step on toes as ministers, cabinet secretaries, government functionaries and others can well attest to. Conservation issues receive a gloves off attention level, as do a range of tourism related topics. Aviation ranks equally high here and many sources across the region constantly make sure that readers can get the latest news, often breaking news told first right here.

A recent article about the shenanigans of the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority in their dealings with their regional counterparts followed that tradition and led to prompt howls of protest and feigned outrage, which, lacking any foundation, were promptly ignored and in fact spurred further digging into the underhand tactics employed to keep regional airlines out of the Kenyan skies.

In the past it was the Tanzanians under fire for treating airlines, for instance those registered in Uganda, as foreign inspite of EAC agreements to the contrary and, besides often demanding a 48 hour clearance time also prohibited traffic beyond the main gateways, forcing passengers to change planes to fly into the national parks. Today though the tables were turned on the Kenyan regulators for blatant violations of the spirit and the letter of relevant EAC agreements, and a whistleblower has come forward to share some of the going on’s behind the scenes at recent meetings in, of all places, Bali, where the ICAN Conference took place which brought the two delegations face to face.

Information received from meetings between the Kenyan and Tanzanian delegation on the sidelines of ICAN, indicates that not all was well and that the two sides did not see eye to eye over where the bilateral relations in the aviation sector were heading. The emails seen needed to be ‘sanitized’ to protect the identity of the source but the contents narrated below do correctly reflect the tone and substance of the exchanges between the two sides.

The Kenyans reportedly started off by denying that they were given an agenda for the meeting, sending the talks immediately in the wrong direction, something which even several ‘time out’ requests could not fix later on as they failed to then find the right words to get the exchanges back on track.

Tanzania, taken aback by the intransigence of their colleagues, which bordered almost on insult, did apparently go as far as giving a deadline of end January 2015 to resolve the dispute or else take countermeasures, i.e employ punitive action over Kenya’s failure to give traffic rights to Fastjet which had been properly designated by Tanzania to fly from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi. The understanding here is that non-compliance may result in the reduction of frequencies permitted by Tanzania for Kenyan airlines flying on the route with other measures implied but not spelled out.

Tanzania’s patience clearly ran out when it was pointedly mentioned that the delegations had not come to Bali for ‘massages’ but to discuss bilateral air service agreements, signaling to their counterparts that they were not going to be a punch ball in this game of thrones, who controls the airways in East Africa.

Things only got worse when the two delegations were not even able to agree on minutes of the meeting of the previous day with interpretations of a ‘principal place of business’ and ‘effective regulatory control’ among the contentious items, leaving them to merely acknowledge that meetings had taken place but without formal minutes agreed upon and signed.

Rarely have relations on a technical level between the two countries’ aviation regulators hit such lows with the potential to substantially derail other areas under discussion between the two countries in a wider East African context.

Other aviation sources from Tanzania have also entered the fray when asked to comment and one usually well informed individual suggested that the Kenyan side in fact is currently seeking an increase in frequencies in their favour, further inflaming the already volatile situation caused by the endless delays in granting traffic rights to a Tanzanian registered airline which for all intent and purpose meets the ownership requirements of having 51 percent of the company’s shares controlled by Tanzanian citizens.

The language these guys understand is one of strength. Our TCAA is entitled to carry out ramp checks for as long as it takes to send the message to their Kenyan counterparts. Perhaps that should be the first measure because if a flight delays for an hour or two every time they land, such a message will not be, cannot be ignored. The Kenyans are playing not only us but you in Uganda too and the Rwandans also. This coalition of the willing you people have created should in fact give you better treatment but it seems where the interests of Kenya’s aviation sector are concerned it is sheer protectionism. Sitting on 5th freedom traffic right applications, which Uganda has granted to Fastjet and to RwandAir to fly from Entebbe to Nairobi, is a problem you need to deal with. We will deal with their refusal to grant Fastjet Tanzania, a designated airline by the way, the rights to fly from Dar to Nairobi but unless this gross violation of EAC agreements is addressed on the EAC platform and made public what is really going on behind the scenes, they think they get away with anything. If they do not change their minds this will blow up big time in their faces and while we will all be losing, the biggest losers will be the Kenyan airlines until their CAA concedes and accepts we are equals and not their juniors’ let the source fly off the cuff, but on condition of strict anonymity, needless to mention.

It appears clear that behind the scenes the proverbial knives are out and are being sharpened and specific countermeasures are obviously being discussed which may come into effect very soon, in fact sooner than the exchange above between the delegations on the sideline of the ICAN meeting might suggest.

This is to no little part spurred by the general perception Tanzania has of being left out deliberately from the so called coalition of the willing and the alleged attempts to isolate the country from EAC infrastructure projects and logistical agreements signed between three of the partner states.

The EAC Head of State Summit in Nairobi, ahead of which the various ministerial working groups will meet, may well touch on these pending aviation issues to have the politicians intervene and give directives to the bureaucrats to avoid further damage, because if not, this entire saga can turn very nasty with passengers being the primary victims as regulators fight for supremacy in the East African skies.

In closing did a Kenyan source with close insights into the operations of the licensing committee say in a phone conversation: ‘I told you who wrote letters to object and what was written in those letters. The Kenyan airlines are afraid of the competition Fastjet will bring which is why their application for an air service license may not even be resolved at the first licensing hearing of 2015 but dragged out way longer. Our regulators are subject to government oversight and if government owns shares in an airline which loses a lot of money they are easily swayed to extend further protection. This is not over by a long shot and it does not matter what protocols and agreements say, as by the way the Tanzanians themselves keep doing when they keep our airlines out of their national parks’. A right proper powder keg this has become and the fuses are short and getting shorter it seems.

Watch this space for future updates to get breaking and regular aviation news from across Eastern Africa.

One Response

  1. We seem to have a long way to go on air transport – If we cant open the skies for regional players, then how do we deepen the development agenda within the region? Thanks for the behind the scenes narrative

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