Ethiopia raises its hand for liberalisation

The Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority is tasked with ensuring the development of a safe, reliable and modern air transport sector – but now new moves are also afoot in the country, as Kaleyesus Bekele found out when he spoke to ECAA director general, Colonel Wossenyeleh Hunegnaw.
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Ethiopia has a long and proud aviation history that dates back to the 1920s when the first aircraft flew to the capital, Addis Ababa, 26 years after the invention of an aircraft.
That aircraft was a Patez 25 commanded by a French pilot named Andre Mayo.
Ethiopia was also among the four African states that endorsed the Chicago Convention in 1944, which established the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The ECAA is mandated by law to audit and regulate the airline industry. It certifies and inspects airports, operators, aviation training and maintenance centres. It also licenses pilots, cabin crew and aircraft maintenance technicians.
“We are working to maintain ICAO standards and recommended practices (SARPS) and enhance the aviation sector,” said ECAA director general Wossenyeleh Hunegnaw.
He said that the authority had worked hard in the past 10 years to nurture inspectors in all the sector departments – operation, air worthiness, aerodrome, and standards. The authority had also trained an adequate number of young and qualified air traffic controllers (ATCs).
As part of the modernisation of the air navigation service, the ECAA has procured and installed modern radar and automatic dependence surveillance/broadcast (ADS/B) flight instrumentation at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport at a cost of $10 million.
It had also installed a message-handling system (MHS) and communication, navigation and surveillance (CNS) system.
Last year it installed a multilateralisation system (M-LAT) at a cost of $2.6 million.
Currently, it is undertaking an expansion project at the Addis Ababa Airport ATC tower.
The acquisition of the modern air navigation equipment transformed the authority’s air space management capability. According to Hunegnaw, after equipping Bole International Airport with the radar and ADS/B, an aircraft can take off within 2.5 minutes and it takes only three minutes to land. It used to take more than 30 minutes.
“This has benefited the fast-growing national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, in saving the cumbersome fuel cost,” Hunegnaw said.
The ECAA has also cooperated with the aviation authorities in Togo, Malawi, Chad and Guinea – African countries where Ethiopian Airlines forged strategic partnerships – on capacity-building programmes.
Hunegnaw is proud of what he and his colleagues have achieved in upgrading the ECAA Training Centre. It has procured ATC simulators and, with the help of ICAO, has trained trainers.
Consequently, the training centre has become a full member of the ICAO trainer-plus programme. “We not only trained an adequate number of ATCs for ourselves but we are now training ATCs from neighbouring countries like Djibouti, Somaliland and Somalia,” he revealed.
The ECAA secured a category 1 status from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1998 when Ethiopian Airlines first began direct flights between Addis Ababa and Washington DC. After being audited by FAA in 2014, ECAA retained its category 1 status.
The ICAO also audited ECAA in 2015 and it scored 65.14%. “We scored above the global average,” Hunegnaw said. “And we have improved a lot since then. We have been filling the gaps identified by ICAO’s inspectors,” he added.
Although Ethiopia has the largest carrier in Africa, the domestic airline sector is under-developed. General aviation is at its infant stage, while business aviation is non-existent. There are only eight private airlines that operate charter flights. None of the private airlines operate scheduled flights.
There are two private pilot training schools in the country but there is no private maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) centre. The country has restrictive laws that limit private investment in the airline business – the law does not allow foreign nationals to invest in a domestic airline. Private airlines are not allowed to operate an aircraft which has more than 50 seats.
As part of the ongoing political and economic reform programmes being implemented by the new Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, the ECAA, in collaboration with the ministry of transport drafted a new national aviation policy that enhances the participation of the private sector in the air transport industry.
Hunegnaw revealed that the government intends to open the air transport sector for investors.
The draft aviation policy proposes to lift the 50-seat limitation imposed on private airlines. “There will be no seat limit,” Hunegaw said, adding that private airlines would be encouraged to operate scheduled flights. The draft regulation also allows foreign nationals/companies to invest in local private airlines.
Hunegnaw noted that the existing civil aviation law was enacted in 2001, adding that the global aviation industry had transformed a lot in the past years. “With the existing proclamation and regulations, we cannot meet the ICAO standards. Second, the participation of the private sector in the aviation sector was limited. With the new proclamation and regulation, we want to enhance the participation of the private sector. We also want regional states and cities to have a stake in the aviation sector,” Hunegnaw said.
The draft regulation proposes small airports to be built and operated by the private sector, regional government and city administrations. Foreign companies, in partnership with local investors, can develop and operate airports in Ethiopia.
The regulation would allow investors to engage in ground-handling services, aircraft parts designing, manufacturing and maintenance work. However, while the draft proclamation allows the participation of foreign companies and nationals in local aviation companies, the controlling stake (51%) should be owned by Ethiopian nationals.
According to Hunegnaw, investors are requesting to build their own small airports and heliports. “For instance, hotels and hospitals are demanding to build helipads. So far, we do not have a regulation that allows the private sector to build such facilities,” he said. “It is a big challenge for the government to build all the air transport infrastructure, administer and operate it all by itself. The way forward should be a public-private partnership,” he added.
Hunegnaw hopes that the new national aviation policy will be endorsed in 2020.
The Ethiopian Government is also contemplating partially privatising Ethiopian Airlines, which is wholly owned by the government. The government is considering floating some airline shares for sale.