Coinciding with the start of bilateral talks over a range of issues related to tourism relations between Tanzania and Kenya yesterday, news emerged from Dar es Salaam that the patience of the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) has finally run out.
Having designated Fastjet for the route to Nairobi more than 9 months ago, Kenya’s Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), a fellow East African Community country, has dragged its feet and obstructed the application. Fastjet, a Tanzanian-registered airline meeting all the nationality requirement global aviation agreements stipulate to get traffic rights from their home country to another country, expressed their frustration repeatedly to their national regulators, and it seems that the long-awaited response finally came down hard.
The matter was discussed at the sidelines of the last ICAO Air Services Negotiation Event (ICAN) meeting in Bali, where the Kenyan delegation reportedly treated their Tanzanian counterparts with contempt if not worse. A similar pattern also emerged over RwandAir being granted fifth freedom rights from Uganda to fly on the Entebbe Nairobi route, which KCAA also initially obstructed, then delayed, and finally only granted with a capacity cap in absolute contradiction of the spirit of not just the East African Community (EAC) but more so of the “Coalition of the Willing” (COW) cooperation, aka Northern Corridor Integration Projects. This unique cooperation saw Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya fast-track a number of projects, including a common tourist visa and visa-free travel for expatriates. It, however, took the intervention of the Heads of State to push the aviation accord through, and still the KCAA tried to confuse matters.
“I am surprised it took TCAA that long to react. After all you had written about looming consequences already by the end of 2014. I think TCAA gave their colleagues at the KCAA all the time they needed to do the right thing and when it did not happen, the roof finally came down. Fastjet is our airline. They fly to Johannesburg, Lusaka, Harare, and Entebbe, and apart from South Africa had no problems getting landing rights approved. In the case of Johannesburg we all know that SAA [South African Airways] used influence to delay the start of the flights, but they sucked the blood from Tanzanians with overpriced fares and things had to change. Maybe now the Kenyan regulators [will] take notice that TCAA [is] not owing them allegiance [n]or are their pawns. Once the Fastjet issue is resolved, I am sure all will go back to normal very quickly,” wrote a Dar es Salaam-based aviation source when breaking the news late last evening.
A Nairobi-based aviation source, on condition of anonymity, then added this: “When you are a member of a trade bloc with an aviation accord, when you are a member of the Northern Corridor countries, you got to play by the rules. Our boys at KCAA did not play by the rules. The may have thought they do our airlines a favor, who knows, some airlines, and I do not put it beyond them, might have influence peddled them even to stop competition, but the result now is devastating. It is also, like the spat over access to Jomo Kenyatta by Tanzanian cars, completely unnecessary. Also remember, you wrote about the Qatar Airways chief talking to you about Mombasa flights. Those were also blocked by KCAA. The way tourism is going, it is time to take a leap and open our airports for foreign airlines. If anyone wants to fly from abroad to Mombasa, let them. If our own airlines think that for their convenience passengers must first land in Nairobi, let the market decide who travels with whom. I agree with you, this must be laid at the door of our own regulators, and they have failed us again miserably. Fastjet should also use this opportunity to finally get their own air service license for Kenya so that this business of advertising very low fares and when you travel you pay twice as much comes to an end.”
The Kenyan delegation now in Arusha for the bilateral tourism talks were taken by surprise when the news broke about the aviation industry now also being embroiled in a tit-for-tat spat, and it can only be hoped that cooler heads prevail and not seek escalation but cooperation from which both countries can benefit. United we stand and divided we fall is all too real and with competitions for the region’s beaches from other international countries, and for safaris from other African countries is it increasingly paramount that East Africa moves closer together instead of further apart. Tanzania is clearly challenged to catch up with the fast-tracking, to join the common tourist visa and allow expatriates from the region visa-free travel while Kenyan aviation regulators have to give up their obstinate attitude in blocking partner state airlines from accessing routes into and across Kenya.