Ethiopia’s first of its kind aviation policy, finalized nine years after it was initiated by the Ethiopian Aviation Authority, was criticized for failing to address most of the lingering issues regarding private aviation operators in Ethiopia.
The draft policy states ‘market access restrictions’ will be lifted ‘gradually’ and private aviators will be allowed to engage in domestic and continental services ‘without prejudice.’ It also states that the government will provide support for private operators to build their own hangars and MRO. So far, private operators get maintenance services from South Africa and Kenya, due to lack of such services for smaller aircrafts in Ethiopia.
A Safety Fund has also been proposed to be established, by redirecting a portion of flight ticket sales in the domestic market. The draft policy envisages to liberalize and create a market based aviation industry, thereby maximizing the contribution of private aviation sector, which is currently less than one percent of the USD4.2 billion industry.
Nonetheless, managers of private aviation companies that participated during the discussions on the draft policy stressed that the document overlooks underlying challenges in the industry.
Ethiopia’s investment regulation, which was ratified last year, states that private aviation companies have to partner with the government to engage in international flight services. The document did not address this issue, though it states ‘private operators, who fulfill international standards, will be allowed to operate internationally.’
During a discussion organized by the Aviation Authority over the policy, Abebe Angasa, from Afri-Aviation Consultancy, said the aviation sector cannot be liberalized practically, because the policy fails to articulate and solve most of the contradicting issues. “It is difficult for liberalization to touch the ground.”
During the same meeting, Girma Gebre (Cap.), general manager of East Africa Aviation, said that the Civil Aviation Authority should be re-established as an autonomous regulator. The Authority is under the civil service administration, which has led to many instructor turnovers.
“There are problems hindering us from operating freely. The draft did not hint at how private aviation operators can compete in the market,” said Girma, adding no single local bank is giving a loan for private aviators.
Bereket Yosef, representative of Trans-Nation Airways during the meeting, also criticized the draft for not mentioning black boxes, MAX-8, drones and insurance companies. A black box is usually sent abroad for investigation and Ethiopia has no say but to accept what is stated by foreign investigators.
Managing director of Abyssinia Flight Services, Solomon Gizaw (Cap.), in his part, underlined that a Civil Aviation Council should be established under the Office of the Prime Minister.
“This policy cannot be implemented unless Ethiopian Airlines and other stakeholders believe in it. How airports can provide fair service for private aviators, while it is under Ethiopian airlines group? The policy must answer the issues of airport and Ethiopian airlines,’ Solomon said during the meeting.
Though Ethiopia has a 77 year old aviation industry, the number of private aviators and their contribution remains insignificant. For years, private operators have been complaining of the seat caps, restrictions on access to airports and markets, among others. Most of these managers stressed the new policy document fails to envisage how a level filed can be created both for the state owned Ethiopian airlines and private operators.