‘Liberalisation of air space a must for EAC’

Excerpts of Mr. Barry Kashambo, CASSOA Executive Director’s interview with the EAC’s official magazine; THE COMMUNITY on 24 February 2013:

Q: I take it it’s been about eight months in this office. How has it been so far?

A: Thanks very much. I must say I am enjoying every bit of it, except that the time is moving a little fast. There are so many things to do in my five years but I am grateful for the support from the EAC Secretariat, from the stakeholders, from the civil aviation authorities and most important of all from my colleagues at work.

Q: What are the key issues you have identified?

A: A lot of the background for my work had already been laid by my predecessor Mr. [Mtesigwa] Maugo. But I will hasten to say that I realised that there was a big gap in activities to do with security oversight. So we quickly have put security oversight as one of our priority areas. A lot of emphasis was being put on safety oversight activities but we need to give security oversight activities the same significance.

Q: Tell us about the safety measures, especially regarding audits for airlines in the region?

A: CASSOA does not do audits. Our role is to provide technical guidance and assistance. The airlines are audited at the level of Partner States’ CAAs (civil aviation authorities).

Q: Now to the subject of liberalising the East African air space…

A: That’s a very interesting question. Everywhere I go today they are asking: when are we going to have one free air space in East Africa? I think it is very important to have the liberalisation of the air space achieved. I must say that the [process] is in very advanced stages. Although we have definitely delayed, it is totally desirable [to have the air space liberalised].

There are quite a number of benefits that CASSOA, the travelling public and the airline industry will attain from liberalisation of the air space. Liberalisation of the air space is mandatory if we are going to achieve the implementation of the Common Market Protocol. With the liberalisation of the air space, you have reduced air fares, you have increased flexibility in air travel…

Right now there is so much difficulty in moving from one destination to another, leave alone the high cost of travel within East Africa. There are no direct connections from Bujumbura to Entebbe for example. You have to go through Nairobi or Kigali.

It’s very difficult to connect from Uganda to maybe southern Tanzania, so the liberalisation of the air space will increase the travel within the region, decrease the cost of the travel and that will become very beneficial to the economies of East Africa. So we are looking forward to see that liberalisation of the air space is implemented. Liberalisation of the air space will be an important tool for achieving all aspects of integration: economic, social, political…

Q: Do we have any dates?

A: There are no dates as of now, but it is being discussed at all levels and it is being fast tracked. I can assure you it is being given the priority it deserves.

Q: What are some of the hurdles have you encountered?

A: Some of the hurdles have been to do with stakeholders’ consultations, others were to do with decisions being made by Partner States, others at stages of implementation, but I would say that most of these hurdles many of which were mainly bureaucratic are being handled at the levels of civil aviation authorities and also at Sectoral Committee and Council levels.

Q: So you are confident that there is sufficient goodwill for this to happen?

A: There is sufficient technical and political will. The will is there at all levels.

Q: And stakeholders like airlines; are there no fears about competition?

A: I think the airlines realise that [with the liberalisation] you are opening more destinations for them. Much as there will be competition, there is no business without competition and all business thrives on the opportunity of competition. I would imagine that any good airline looking at a good future will embrace the liberalisation.

Q: Another subject that airlines would be interested in is the $0.70 surcharge…

A: One of the biggest challenges we have here at CASSOA is a sustainable funding mechanism. We rely on the civil aviation authorities’ contributions to fund our budget. The civil aviation authorities themselves have got financial constraints so we have an ongoing problem of cutting our budgets at all times because don’t have a sufficient funding mechanism.

Coming back to the 70 cents, our Strategic Plan [2011-2015] had a provision to levy that fee for every embarking passenger within the region. Some states embraced it; however, some stakeholders needed further consultation. There is still some resistance from some stakeholders regarding the implementation of that fee.

Q: So what happens next?

A: Early this year we revised our Strategic Plan and the Strategic Plan experts, based on the current and projected future travel and the revised organisational structure of CASSOA, have given a proposal that with every embarking passenger paying 30 cents then we should be able to get enough funds to cater for our budgets of 2013/2014 and 2014/2015. We are yet to float this proposal [but] it will come up in the revised Strategic Plan. The review has come up with a reduction from 70 cents to 30 cents.
The other option is to ask the CAAs to increase their funding for us to be able to meet the budget for the scheduled activities.

Q: Are stakeholders warming up to this proposal?

A: Consultations are being done at Partner State level. The major stakeholders in our aviation industry in the region are the Kenyan aviation industry. They constitute almost 70% of the aviation activity in the region and we are yet to get the comments by stakeholders in the Republic of Kenya regarding the implementation of the policy.

Q: There are serious manpower challenges for the aviation industry in this region. How are you going to implement these wonderful ideas without the requisite human resources?

A: The scarcity of personnel, especially technical personnel is a fact. It has hampered security and safety oversight activities for a while and it will continue to hamper them for some time to come because it is difficult to attract and retain competent personnel at the Partner States’ civil aviation authority levels and at CASSOA itself because the package that we are giving is not commensurate with the package in the industry out there.

We have the challenge of inadequate technical personnel in the region, especially pilots, and we need to go back to the drawing board and look at what are the root causes. One of the causes is that we don’t have training organisations.
We need to get the East African aviation training facility in Soroti [Uganda] back on its feet as it were in 1971—train aggressively so that the shortfalls of engineers and pilots are rectified.

If we don’t take these steps I foresee a big, big problem, not only at the regulatory levels but also at the airlines level. We already have symptoms of shortage of pilots in the region; foreigners flying our aircrafts. It’s not because operators don’t like employing East Africans.

Q: What role do you see for CASSOA in as far boosting training in the East African aviation sector is concerned?

A: We have to bring this shortfall into the light and say, look, if we are going to achieve safety and security in the region, if we are going to have oversight systems implemented, then we must have qualified personnel. We must be able to attract and retain these persons and the only way we can do it is to make sure we have approved training organisations, which are doing this training at standard levels.

Number two, and this is very important, as CASSOA, we have two projects that are running in support of this function. We have procured an examination system to be the common East African Community [aviation] examination system, so all the pilots and engineers within this region will be doing a common examination which is being hosted at CASSOA.

Whether one is in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, they will be doing exams that are standardised. This will give the exam integrity, making sure that the flaws that happen at Partner State levels are eliminated  and most important of all, that we have a common licensing system. With the help of development partners we’re looking at procuring very many questions so we are looking at uploading tens of thousands of questions.

Two, we are having challenges regarding medical examination; pilots, air traffic controllers, aircraft engineers are required to do medical tests periodically. Doctors that do medical tests on these pilots have to be designated by civil aviation authorities. Before they are designated they have to be assessed by a medical assessor. This has been a shortfall in the region.

ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) has recommended through a study that we should have a center for aviation medicine. The Republic of Kenya has offered to host this and negotiations are already ongoing.

Very soon we will have a center for aviation medicine in Nairobi whose functions will be not only to monitor the designation of medical examiners at the regional level but also for the appeals. Currently there is no forum where appeals of medical examinations are done. With that CASSOA will be able to play a big role addressing problems regarding written examinations and medical examinations.

Q: Shall we have mutual recognition of qualifications once the common examination system is in place?

A: Yes, and not just regionally but internationally, because once you have an examination system that has got a lot of integrity; that is of high standard, then it will be internationally recognised.

Q: One last one: where do you see CASSOA four, five years from now?

A: CASSOA has got great, great potential. There is a lot happening here. What we need is commitment, both at the Partner State and Board levels. We need to get a sustainable funding mechanism to be able to meet our mandate. I can see CASSOA going a long way in supporting the safety and security of aviation in the region. CASSOA is going to play a big role in the integration activities of the Community.