Ethiopian private charter operators are demanding that the country’s government introduce restrictions on foreign operators they say are unfairly taking business from them.
At a recent meeting organised by the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA), representatives of the country’s 13 local operators complained that foreign competitors are enjoying free access to operate within Ethiopia, even though Ethiopian operators are blocked from these companies’ home markets.
“For instance, we cannot operate charter flights in Kenya and they charge us exorbitant fees to fly to Kenya,” said Frehiwot Tessema, general manager of Aquarius Aviation.
“Kenyan authorities try their level best to protect local operators. While our aircraft are parked at the tarmac of the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, foreign operators should not be allowed to operate here”, he added.
But Ethiopian authorities pointed to the somewhat limited fleets of local operators as an obstacle to winning charter bookings.
According to AIN online, ECAA director general Wossenyeleh Hunegnaw insisted that the authority always prioritizes local operators in charters for government-backed projects.
He explained that while government departments have been advised to insist that foreign companies use local operators, sometimes these operators cannot meet their transportation needs.
“We do not want to create impediments to national flagship projects,” said Hunegnaw.
According to the ECAA director general, this issue is particularly critical when it comes to air ambulance flights, for which it is difficult to insist on using local operators.
“[When] 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 a local operator at that critical moment,” he said.
“I advise you [local operators] to upgrade your capability. In the meantime, we do our best to give you market protection. You need to meet the international standards that foreign customers demand”, he added.
However, the Ethiopian operators also complained that the ECAA does not apply its ban on passenger aircraft older than 22 years to foreign charter operators.
“These foreign operators collect millions of dollars [in Ethiopia] and return to their countries,” said Capt. Solomon Gizaw, managing director of Abyssinia Flight Services.
He added that , “Some of them bring in a DC-3, which is 80 years old, and take millions of dollars within a short period of time.”
Abyssinia Flight Services operates a fleet of Cessna Grand Caravans. The Aquarius fleet consists of a pair of Aero Commanders, a Beech 1900, a Grand Caravan and an AS350 helicopter—all of which are leased from Kenyan and South African companies.
“We are not afraid of competition but it has to be on equal ground,” added Abyssinia Flight Services deputy managing director, Amare Hanna, who questioned whether the ECAA is adequately scrutinising aircraft operated by foreign companies and registered outside Ethiopia.
ECAA’s aircraft registration and airworthiness director Zewdu Teklay conceded that the authority might not be applying identical standards to foreign and domestic operators.
“Foreign airlines operate here for a couple of months, but if we allow local operators to bring in old-generation aircraft the accident rate would increase. So we are trying to avoid accidents,” he said.
However, the ECAA director general conceded that this approach might need to change. “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,” Hunegnaw said.
By: Sade Williams