After meeting in Algiers for its 46th annual general assembly, the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) has resurrected the Yamoussoukro Declaration: a decree set down in 1999 for the liberalisation of African skies that unfortunately previously stopped short of implementation.

The decision was officially adopted by African heads of state in 2000 with a two year grace period, but twelve years past that deadline African skies are still not open to African airlines, and the air transport market continues to be restricted by bilateral air services agreements.

However, following the event Secretary-General of the association, Elijah Chingosho, revealed that African states are now expected to announce the full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration at the next African Union Summit in Addis Ababa in January 2015.

If implemented, the declaration could cut much of the red tape smothering African airlines as they attempt to bridge the demand for routes traversing the continent, and avoiding the restrictions imposed by bilateral air service agreements.

A recent study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has indicated that the 12 AFRAA countries could generate $1.3bn and create extra 155,000 jobs by liberalising their markets.

A 2006 study on the impact of open skies in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region demonstrated that prices on liberated routes declined by an average of 18%, but that passenger volumes also increased by 20%, lending traction to both employment and tourism.

One aviation expert at the evented commented to Reuters that, “African states often speak of African economies integration, but ironically most deny traffic rights to African airlines and grant it to non-African carriers, mostly to Gulf carriers — this has to change.”

However, while it is easy to lambast non-African carriers for securing preferential flight agreements in Africa, in reality the onus to change the situation lies solely on the continent’s governments.

Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Togo and Nigeria are all countries expected to champion the full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration before January.

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The AFRAA event also saw the body honour Ethiopian Airlines as the “Best African Airline of the Year” for its exceptional results in 2013, consistent profitability and sound strategy — which have enabled it to forge win-win partnerships with fellow sisterly African airlines.

Receiving the award for the third year in a row, Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde Gebremariam remarked that the award went, “first and foremost to the more than 8,000 employees at Ethiopian,” but cautioned that the challenging times for African airlines put their “very survival is at risk.”

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