KAMPALA, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged the East African region to open up its skies to make it easy for travelers and operators to move through the region.
Raphael Kuuchi, the IATA vice president for Africa, said it is almost 20 years since countries in the region signed the 1999 Yamoussoukro Open Skies agreement, but the failure to implement it impeded growth of the regional air traffic and kept the airfare high.
Kuuchi told Xinhua in an interview that ratifying the agreement would stir up competition in air transport across the region and push down the cost of doing business.
"Regional governments must agree to open up their air space in order to reduce fares and increase traffic volume, and agree as well that flights within the region are domesticated. Otherwise, there is no way of increasing domestic or regional flights," he said.
He noted that opening up of the skies would also boost intra-regional tourism, travel and cooperation.
"The regional sky is currently dominated by Middle Eastern carriers which have very good products and marketing and have now become household names. These ventures require a lot of investment which we don't have. However," he said.
East African countries are among the 44 African states that have committed themselves to liberalize the aviation industry, curb air taxes and offer qualifying airlines entry rights.
However, regional countries reportedly rely on Bilateral Air Services Agreements with the view to shield their local carriers.
Currently, a return ticket on Kenya Airways from Entebbe to Nairobi costs approximately 543 U.S. dollars while a return ticket to Dubai only costs about 200 dollars more.
John Kagoro, Director Airports and Aviation Security at Uganda's Entebbe International Airport, however said ratification of the agreement does not help Uganda, which currently does not operate any national flights.
"Considering these routes as domestic will eat away all our revenue and make operation and maintenance of the airport so difficult. We need the taxes and other fees that we charge at an international rate to maintain the airport as it is," he said.
Kagoro also argues that other regional countries operating national carriers are so reluctant to implement the Northern Corridor Air Space agreement signed in Nairobi in 2014 between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.