The East Africa Business Council (EABC) has urged member states to adopt the open skies policy so as to extend and promote their exports to European, Asian and American markets.

Open sky agreements are those that two countries negotiate to provide rights for airlines to offer international passenger and cargo services.

The EABC chief executive officer, John Bosco Kalisa, also said the open skies policy would help boost the tourism, hospitality and transport sectors that have been highly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kalisa explained that the regional states have lost upwards of $4b (Shs14.2 trillion) of international tourism receipts over the last 12 months and that liberalisation of the airspace (open skies) would lower the airfare by about 9% and stimulate passenger demand by more than 14%.

In 2015, the African Civil Aviation Commission and IATA commissioned a study on the benefits of full air transport liberalisation among East African Community partner states.

The result indicated the move would add $202m to the regional GDP per annum, increase traffic by 46%, reduce fares by 9% and increase frequency by 41%.

Kalisa said presently, flying in the region is considered a massive undertaking, due to the high ticket costs, compared to further destinations like Dubai.

“This is why the board has directed us to champion the open skies because it will mark the end of the high airfares in the region,” he said.

East African countries are among the 44 African states that committed themselves to liberalising the aviation industry, curb air taxes and offer qualifying airlines entry rights in order to reduce ticket prices, increase traffic and improve safety.

But almost 20 years later, many African countries including those in the EAC are yet to open their air space, and instead rely on Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) with the view to shield their local carriers, denying passengers of low airfares.

The IATA interline framework has been a cornerstone of the airline industry for almost as long as the industry has been operating.

Today’s interline framework creates challenges for airlines to maintain commercial control.

In many interline itineraries, there is limited transparency for customers, and limited support for ancillary services, leaving customers with fewer choices on interline itineraries.

According to Jenifer Bamuturaki, the Uganda Airlines acting chief executive officer, the complexity of today’s interline environment limits the involvement of many players, such as low-cost carriers, and surface transport operators. The IATA interline framework is a one-size-fits-all model.

“Airlines often now negotiate and manage many separate agreements that complement or replace a traditional interline agreement,” she said.

Interline models are also emerging in markets that provide alternatives to traditional IATA interlining.