Stage set for regional open skies with low taxes

By: LILIAN OCHIENG

Taxes on regional air fares will be lifted by mid next year, setting the stage for an open sky within Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan.

Mr Nicholas Bodo, officer in charge of air transport, Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure, said aviation officials in the four countries will, in six months, give recommendations on how to bring down infrastructure and fuel costs in the region.

“We have contracted experts in aviation to look into the matter so as to hasten multilateral air service agreements in the region,” said Mr Bodo on phone on Tuesday.

The initiative is part of a wider drive that will see the four countries operate an open air space, ushering in an era of affordable travel around the region.

The groups are working to meet a directive by Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Salva Kiir of South Sudan last month in an effort to ensure an open sky as soon as possible.

“Ensure that there is fairness in pricing of air tickets on all regional routes, specific attention be given to the Juba-Nairobi-Juba and Entebbe-Nairobi-Entebbe routes,” said a communique signed by the four leaders.

COMPETITION LAWS

Speaking during the African Travel Association conference on Tuesday, Kenya Airways chief executive Mbuvi Ngunze told the Nation that arbitration and competition laws have to be looked into for the system to become a reality.

“We are excited about this because it means more business for us; our ticket costs are relatively higher because of the cost of doing business in Africa as well as the taxes,” said Mr Ngunze.

Kenya is expected to be the biggest beneficiary of the arrangement that could cure ailing Kenya Airways.

KQ together with Rwanda Air will operate as domestic flights within the four countries, taking advantage of Uganda and South Sudan air space.

The regional open sky agreement is expected to come through by 2016, when the technical aspects of air space operations have been finalised.

The arrangement will give the two airlines exclusive rights to operate air traffic within territories that are not theirs.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie said Kenya is positioning itself to tap into the open air skies, adding that there are plans to renovate domestic airports such as Mombasa to start receiving scheduled international flights.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION