THE EUROPEAN UNION'S "BANNED Airlines List" issued on 30 March 2010 restricted airlines from other continents (mostly Africa) from entering European airspace. The "newly updated list" (which was made to appear global) affected mainly 17 countries, 13 of which are African; with a collective airline total of III.
The unprecedented tally was drawn from airlines in Angola, Gabon, Benin, DRCongo, Rwanda, Congo-Brazzaville, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Zambia, Swaziland, and Comoros. As expected, Africa did not take kindly to this. The continent's umbrella airlines body, the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), sees the EU list as giving an unfair business advantage to EU airlines rather than being influenced by safety concerns.
"Air safety is AFRAA's number one priority and we are the first to admit that Africa needs to improve its air safety record," said Nick Fadugba, secretary general of AFRAA. "However, while the EU list may be well-intended, its main achievement has been to undermine international confidence in the African airline industry.
"The ultimate beneficiaries of the ban are European airlines which dominate the African skies to the disadvantage of African carriers. If any list is to be published, it should be done by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the global regulator of aviation safety, which has a known track record of impartiality," added Fadugba.
Based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, AFRAA represents 41 member airlines from 33 of Africa's 53 nations. And it is mincing no words in what it sees as unwarranted business hostility from the EU.
"When we did our investigation on the EU list, we concluded that the intention of the EU was not driven by safety as such but it is purely business. The agenda of this list is mischievous to say the least as it is intended to imply that both African airlines and skies are unsafe," Raphael Kuuchi, AFRAA's commercial director, contended in a no-holds-barred interview with New African.
"If their intention is not mischievous, why else would more and more EU airlines increase their traffic into Africa?" Kuuchi asked. "This list is driven by fear of competition and protectionism rather than fair play and open competition," Kuuchi, who hails from Ghana, noted. According to him, 90% of the airlines on the EU list are classified as "paper airlines", which though registered in some African countries, do not operate at all.
"When they first issued this list of infamy in 2006, we complained that they were using unusual business tactics to soil the reputations of credible African airlines which compete with the best in the world," Kuuchi continued. "The EU blacklist is a major setback to the intercontinental carriers of Africa who meet international safety standards. The basis of the list is uncertain, it lacks transparency, and there is no clear process of getting off it. Several years after the initial blacklist was published, the majority of countries and airlines that were originally included continue to be on it."
The European Commission vice-president, Siim Kallas, who is in charge of transport, has defended the controversial list: "Safety comes first," he said. "We are ready to support countries that need to build up technical and administrative capacity to guarantee the necessary standards in civil aviation. But we cannot accept that airlines fly into the EU if they do not fully comply with international safety standards."
This is however disputed by Kuuchi. In what he terms as a "three-point plan", Kuuchi explains why the EU has got it all wrong. "If the EU is truly concerned about safety, they should allow this list to be issued by the global aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and not a regional body.
"Secondly, if they intend to achieve their so-called 'safety standards', they should give a clear-cut criterion which airlines named on the list will have to adhere to in order to be expunged from the list. Thirdly, they should adopt the US 'Safer Skies for Africa' model, which is quite proactive and is genuinely engaged in skills upgrading, infrastructure enhancement, and the safety of African skies. These are what will make the EU list appear genuine."
Why AFRAA is angry
Last year, an EU-Africa Aviation Conference was held in Windhoek, Namibia, at which Kuuchi, who has been in the aviation industry for the past 19 years, presented a paper entitled "Development trends in the African aviation industry", in which he pointed out that Africa had great potential in the aviation industry.
"Over the past decade, traffic growth in African has averaged 5.7% per annum," he told New African. "Africa accounts for 3% of passenger and 1.8% of freight traffic. Non-African airlines carry over 75% of traffic. The number of passengers carried by African airlines topped 53 million [in 2008]. Freight earned exceeded 800,000 tons in 2008, with three airlines, Kenya Airways, Egypt Air and South African Airlines having global partnerships. Was all this achieved by 'discredited airlines'?"
Although the EU is fully aware that AFRAA is acknowledged and granted diplomatic status throughout Africa, it has never bothered to consult AFRAA, or the African Union or any African government when drawing up the ban list. Instead it has always taken a unilateral stance, which infuriates players in the African aviation industry.
"The EU and Africa should work together to ensure that aircraft that are banned for environmental reasons in Europe do not get into Africa through the used aircraft market," says Kuuchi. "Unilateral regulation of the industry should give way to global regulation led by ICAO. This will ensure the weak and vulnerable are not disadvantaged."
Kuuchi continued: "Cameroon Airlines was initially banned. In retaliation, the Cameroonian government also closed its skies to Air France. The following day, Cameroon Airlines was taken off the list. The same thing happened to Rwanda which also declared all EU carriers into Rwanda 'unsafe'. Just like Cameroon, the Rwandese airlines were instantly taken off the list. This is our beef with the EU and the reason why we would be happy if ICAO drew up the list instead of an interested party like the EU."
According to Kuuchi, AFRAA is exploring all available opportunities to do away with this notorious list, and has held numerous meetings with the African Union and ICAO to resolve the issue.
"With a population of over 800 million people, peace and democracy being experienced in much of Africa and boosted by an economic boom which has seen the rapid rise of the middle class on the continent, the aviation industry is strategically placed to grow in the next couple of years," Kuuchi explained. "In all the regional economic blocs of Africa, we have seen new low-cost commercial airlines springing up and this is a sign of the viability of the industry. It is these attributes that make the EU list inconsistent with the facts on the ground, and the reason why we will keep lobbying hard for fair play to prevail.
"Airlines, whether state-owned or private, should be run on a commercial basis. Governments in Africa should give airlines the necessary support and we should allow ICAO to be the sole body responsible for legislating on aviation matters. And nations should respect that."
His last words: "We still have some challenges in Africa because most of our airlines are state-owned and under-capitalised. Some of them are not profitable because they lack substantial subsidies. Their markets have been taken over by non-African airlines.
"The other challenge is what we call the Bilatetal Air Service Agreements. We are agitating for the opening of the agreements, to open up the internal market. Kenya Airways, South African Airlines, Egypt Air and Ethiopian Airlines are classic case studies of what Africa is capable of. These are only four of Africa's potentially viable airlines, which means there is room for more, and not even the EU can stop that."…