Local private airlines rendering charter flight services in Ethiopia demanded that the government should give them market protection.
At a stakeholders consultative meeting organized by the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) on Wednesday March 9, owners of private airlines complained that while local airlines have their aircraft on the tarmac ready to serve customers foreign airlines are coming to the Ethiopian market to take their market share.
Frehiwot Tessema, managing director of Aquarius Aviation, said that local private airlines have the capacity to provide charter flight and air ambulance services. Frehiwot said that countries such as Kenya do not allow foreign airlines to fly to domestic destinations. “We cannot operate charter flights in Kenya. They sometimes charge us exorbitant fees to fly to Kenya. They try their level best to protect their local airlines,” Frehiwot said.
By the same token, Frehiwot said, the ECAA should protect local airlines that provide charter and air ambulance services in Ethiopia. “While our aircraft are parked at the tarmac of the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport foreign operators should not be allowed to operate here,” she said.
Solomon Gizaw (Capt.), managing director of Abyssinia Flight Services, complained that the responsiveness of ECAA was very slow. Solomon said that though the authority was trying to improve in service delivery its response to some demands takes years. “We have not got any response for some our demands that we have been for the past six seven years.”
Solomon said that ECAA has imposed an age limit on the type of aircraft that local airlines can operate. However, he said foreign operators bring aging aircraft and freely operate in Ethiopia. “These foreign operators collect millions of dollars and return to their countries. Some of them bring a DC-3 aircraft which is 80 years old and take millions of dollars,” Solomon said.
The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority imposes an age limit of 22 years on passenger aircraft and 25 years on cargo aircraft. But the age limitation is not applicable on aircraft with foreign registry.
The concern was echoed by Amare Gebrehanna (Col.), deputy managing director of Abyssinia Flight Services. Amare said that competition was good but it has to be on a level playing field. “We are not afraid of competition but it has to be on equal ground. Do you follow up the operation of foreign operators? You have to conduct strict inspection on aircraft with foreign registry,” Amare said. Amare expressed his fear that foreign operators may push local airlines out of the market.
Abera Lemi (Capt.), CEO of National Airways, said that there was no lack of knowledge among employees of the ECAA. However, Abera said there was a tendency to avoid responsibility. “The absence of a clear aviation policy has hindered the performance of the authority. It has limited the capability of the executives of the authority to discharge their duties,” Abera said. He urged officials of the ECAA to follow up the endorsement of the national aviation policy.
Abera lamented that private operators have been prohibited not to use mobile phones in the airport. “We can not take our mobiles to the airport. This has made our operation at the airport very challenging,” Abera said.
The private operators asked ECAA to expedite flight clearance processing. They also asked the authority to ease flight restrictions in some locations.
Wossenyeleh Hunegnaw (Col.), director general of ECAA, accepted most of the questions raised by private operators. Regarding market protection Wossenyeleh said that ECAA always gives probity to local operators. “We have written letters to all ministries informing them that foreign companies should use local airlines. But sometimes companies engaged in major infrastructure development projects come with foreign operator. We do not want to create impediments to national flag ship projects. They demand aircraft that local operators do not have,” Wossenyeleh said.
He said that the ECAA does not want to allow foreign operators to operate flights that local airlines can perform. Regarding air ambulance flights Wossenyeleh said it is difficult to tell a patient that he should use local airlines. “A person is in critical condition and a foreign air ambulance asks for clearance to take the patient. It is difficult to tell them that they should use local operator at that critical moment. I advise you to upgrade your capability in the mean time we do our best to give market protection. You need to meet the international standards that foreign customers demand,” Wossenyeleh said.
Wossenyeleh said that ECAA always strives to promptly process flight clearances. “But we have to do the work in coordination with other organizations which at times is time taking. We need permission from the Ministry of Defense. You can not freely fly to the Northern part of Ethiopia. The situation in the north is clear. We also do not allow you to fly in Addis. Abyssinia Ballooning asks to fly in parts of Addis Ababa. What if you it lands in the national palace?”
Zewdu Teklay, aircraft registration and air worthiness certification director with ECAA, said that the ECAA limited aircraft age to maximize safety standards. Zewdu said old aircraft are prone to accidents. “Foreign airlines operate here for a couple of months but if we allow local operators to bring old generation aircraft accident rate would increase. So we are trying to avoid accidents,” Zewdu said.
Wossenyeleh said that statistics show that older aircraft are more involved in accidents. “We agree in principle that the playing field should be leveled. We will see if we should limit the age of aircraft that foreign airlines can operate here,” he said. Regarding the restriction on mobile phones Wossenyeleh said inspectors of the authority are also banned not to use mobile phones adding that the authority will hold talks with the relevant body.
Wossenyeleh said the ECAA equally wants the endorsement of the national aviation policy. “There are things that we can not do in the absence of the aviation policy. So we also want the policy to be endorsed urgently and we will try our best to get the aviation policy endorsed by the government. The Ministry of Transport is working towards that.”
Wossenyeleh asked the local operators to reveal problems related to corruption He gave the floor to private airlines owners to divulge information if they have been asked for bribes. The private airline owners and managers said that they have not been asked for bribes by employees of the authority.
There are 13 registered private airlines in Ethiopia and only six of them are operational. All of them provide charter flight services. Two of the private airlines–Abyssinia Flight Service and East African Aviation–have flight schools and one of them–Amibera Aviation–renders pesticide spray service.