Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Protectionist Open Sky

I know, somehow it does not sound right, but bear with me.

In the last few days a row between Saudi Arabia and Egypt Civil Aviation Authorities erupted over traffic authority for NAS and SAMA to operate between Madina and Cairo.

The MENA region is moving towards Open Sky no doubt, however protectionist policies have put a twist on Open Sky. UAE, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Egypt among others have open sky policies.

However, Egypt has always had a protectionist policy towards Egypt Air. The row erupted because NAS and SAMA wanted to operate Madina to Cairo under the terms of the Open Skies bilateral between the two countries. Egypt, has declared that Cairo International Airport does not receive LCC flights, which is a strange way to get into open sky.

Egypt CAA has refused Air Arabia access into Cairo in 2003, forcing Air Arabia to operate into Alexandria's secondary airport Al Nozha. This has actually improved traffic into Alexandria from three carriers (Egypt Air, Lufthansa and Olympics by the way Lufthansa pulled out) to having every regional carrier operating there on daily basis or seasonal summer traffic (Emirates, Royal Jordanian, Gulf Air, Etihad and a few others demonstrating the power of open skies, recently Air Arabia Egypt, with an Egyptian AOC was refused access to Cairo and will operate from Alexandria.

The whole point of restricting LCC and other traffic is to protect Egypt Air. Even Egyptian unscheduled carriers have restrictions imposed on them.

The question is does Egypt Air require protection? Egypyt is a country of almost 80 million inhabitants and a large expatriate population spanning the globe. For a long time the largest Arab carrier and has recently joined the Star Alliance. So why does a world class airline require protection?

Egypt Air did not have the reputation of being an efficient and lean carrier. This has changed and even though they are not the leanest airline in the MENA region they have improved enough to join the Star Alliance and to have a robust MRO that does cater to foreign carriers' maintenance requirements.

So is that an Egypt Air requirement to be protected or is it a government authority that kept doing whatever it was doing for decades. Open Sky is good for a country witness the growth in Alexandria.

It is about time the Egyptian CAA changes its protectionist policy towards Egypt Air (this protectionism does not extend to other Egyptian carriers) and embrace a true Open Sky policy.

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