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Africa sees need for improved air transport

afrol News, 26 May - Air movement within Africa still offers few routes and competitors, and the recent scandals of blacklisting several African airliners over security faults have pushed the air transport sector deeper into crisis. Airlines officials and African regional institutions are to hold a "high-level meeting" in Tunis next week to address these problems.

The Tunis meeting is to "examine challenges to free movement in Africa," the Tunis-based African Development Bank (ADB) announced. The ADB is one of the hosts, together with the African Union (AU), the UN's Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), African Airlines and the government of Tunisia.

This high-level meeting brings together stakeholders of the African air transport sector - airlines, civil aviation authorities, regional economic communities, international organisations, development bankers and the private sector. The troubled African aviation sector is in bitter need of revitalisation, so the Tunis meeting even draws as high-ranking personalities as AU Commission President Alpha Oumar Konaré.

The objective of the meeting is to "contribute to efforts aimed at improving air travel services on the continent in order to facilitate integration in Africa." An old problem to transport routes in Africa is that national capitals are best connected to European cities, while it remains difficult to find frequent or reliable flight connections to other African cities.

Participants at the meeting also are to "share information on the use of air transport services" and are set to "examine issues relating to improving connections as well as reduce tariffs on the continent." High fares remain a constant problem, with inter-African flights ranking among the most costly in the world.

According to the ADB, the topics to be discussed include: "Institutional and regulatory framework; Financing of air transport sector; Development of intra-African route network and the African response to the globalization of air transport sector." These topics, according to the Bank, "constitute the major challenges which prevent the implementation of the November 1999 Decision on the liberalisation of access to African Air transport markets."

This is not the first time that Africa tries to tackle its poor and over-priced air connections. In 1988, African nations adopted the Yamoussoukro Decision on the New African Aeronautic Policy. Further, in November 1999, Africa adopted the Decision on the liberalisation of access to African Air transport markets.

However, the implementation of the liberalisation policy has been slow, also the ADB admits. Though this decision has existed for more than six years, the air transport sector in Africa is still challenged by a lack of liberalisation. "The future and monitoring of African air transport is linked to technical, commercial and administrative cooperation, as well as to a harmonised legislative and regulatory environment," the ADB concludes ahead og the Tunis meeting.

While the African air transport market generally has remained unsatisfactory for local citizens, some re-furbished and new airliners however have managed to create new dynamism in regional markets. Moroccan-Senegalese Air Senegal International and Nigerian Belleview have revitalised much of the West African market, while still struggling with reliance. South African Airways further is offering an ever-increasing intra-African route network at almost competitive prices.

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