Expensive skies: East Africa cited for high levies at its airports
South Sudan’s Juba International Airport has the heaviest costs for travellers and transporters, showing just how pricing can be a barrier to movement in the East African region.
A study on air transport ranks the Juba airport as the fourth most expensive in Africa in terms of passenger charges, just below Niamey, Monrovia and Bissau airports.
The study, released in January and titled ‘‘Air Transport Services Liberalisation in the East African Community, Focus on Drivers and Regulations’’, was carried out by the East African Business Council (EABC), TradeMark Africa (TMA) and the government of the Netherlands.
Juba (South Sudan), Melchior Ndadaye International Airport (Burundi) and Entebbe (Uganda) airports have high airport tax on passengers, making them expensive destinations.
“The airport tax charged of $122 at Juba International Airport on passengers is above the EAC regional average of $67,” the report says.
Infrastructure, qualified personnel
EABC chief executive John Kalisa attributes the costs to the lack of well-developed infrastructure and qualified personnel to control the airspace.
“The major factors constraining the growth of air transport in EAC especially in South Sudan, is poor infrastructure and insecurity. The airport lacks cold rooms for storage of cargo making, among other facilities,” said Kalisa.
“There is also non-uniformity in passenger handling charges in the EAC making some of the airports, including Uganda and Burundi, slightly expensive.”
Uganda imposes a charge of $0.6 per boarding pass and the $10 on transfers, which are not imposed by other EAC member countries, other than Burundi which imposes $40 on transfers.
Passenger handling charge
The report recommends that Uganda eliminates the passenger handling charge of $0.6 per boarding pass and the $10 on transfers while Burundi removes the $40 on transfer.
“On average passenger departure charges account for 13 percent of the ticket price for flights in the EAC and eight percent for flights to other African countries outside the EAC,” the report reveals.
“However, there are aircraft-related charges that might also be indirectly transferred to ticket prices.”
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The findings also reveal cargo volumes have largely stagnated in the EAC region due to the high cost of air cargo, lengthy bureaucracy in obtaining clearance, airline scheduling delays, inadequate infrastructure like cold rooms and route restrictions that make it difficult to access new markets.
Slow cargo sector
The cost of transporting cargo by air is high in Burundi compared to other EAC states as the country does not have its own cargo aircraft, making access to markets expensive and limited.
Passenger departure and transfer fees remain relatively high in the EAC compared to charges at airports in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc), Europe and the Middle East.
On average passenger departure charges account for 13 percent of the ticket price within EAC and eight percent for flights to other African countries outside the EAC.
However, the report showed that passenger departure and transfer fees in the EAC region are lower than those in the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and Central African Economic and Monetary Community blocs.
The air transport regulatory environment in EAC too has contributed to the expensive skies in the region.
For instance, partner states are influenced by the existing Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreements (BASAs) for respective countries and domestic air services regulations at the national level.
Most BASAs in the EAC provide substantial liberalisation according to the Yamoussoukro Decision.
However, they continue to limit fifth freedom flights and operations of foreign airlines in the domestic market of a contracting party.
Last week, plans by the Uganda Airlines to fly directly to London were stopped due to failure by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) to update its certification with the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO).
UCAA has been trying to update the airport’s certification since the last ICAO inspection in 2014.
The Ugandan agency says it is working with the ICAO regional office, and hopes to complete certification soon to be able to fly to the UK.
“EAC should consider eliminating the BASAs to ease the air service agreements in order to achieve a single air space for EAC and in line with the EAC Common Market,” the report recommends.
Instead of different BASAs between EAC partner states, the report advocates that the region moves towards a single air services agreement.
Another factor blamed for the high cost of travel in the region is the cost of passenger tickets.
“The ticket price per km in the EAC region is more than twice the ticket price for destinations in Europe and other countries in Africa.
‘‘The average ticket price per km in the EAC is $0.39/km compared to only $0.21/Km in other African countries and $0.12/km for destination airports in Europe, Asia and Middle East,” the report reveals.
According to the report, liberalisation of air transport within EAC would result in an additional 46,320 jobs and $202.1 million per annum in GDP., achieved through an increase in trade, tourism, inbound investment, production and employment.
“Liberalisation of air transport services will contribute to our greatest desire of growing intra-EAC trade,” said Charles Omusana, from the EAC Secretariat.
This story was first published in The EastAfrican.