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By : Shame Makoshori

A hospitality industry executive has backed regulation of domestic air space to protect cash-strapped African national airlines from global giants.

Shingi Munyeza, chief executive officer of hotel and leisure group, African Sun Limited (ASL) told international delegates at the African Travel Association (ATA) congress in Victoria Falls last week that there was nothing wrong with African governments regulating domestic air services to protect troubled national airlines.
Munyeza, who leads Zimbabwe’s largest hospitality group with an African footprint, was among key speakers at the  congress.
His views were supported by key United States of America-headquartered global airline, Arik Air International, and a Ugandan minister who warned that “international airlines leave you in the middle of the sea when there is a problem”.
“African governments have been burnt before where they have opened the skies,” said Munyeza.
“Tanzania lost their airline when they opened the skies and when there was trouble the foreign airlines left. So they (African governments) are saying what if the foreign guys kill our national airlines. Between 2000 and 2008, we (Zimbabwe’s tourism industry) were left on our own. Our traditional partners such as BA (British Airways) left,” he said.
“You need to let in (foreign) airlines but ensure you don’t destroy the local airline,” Munyeza told the ATA congress.
US-headquartered Arik Air International’s US country manager, Robert Brunner, said excessive regulation of domestic airways was not unique to Africa.
“You cannot fly from Nigeria to the US, then proceed to New York then continue your flight on domestic routes,” Brunner said.
“Airlines in the US want that business,” he told the ATA congress.
It would appear Munyeza’s views are at variance with those of Tourism and Hospitality Minister Walter Mzembi, who recently said in an interview with this newspaper: “We are over-protecting Air Zimbabwe. We all know that government is a signatory to a declaration that promotes an open sky policy. What I wonder is why we have not been able to motivate any new airlines into our airspace.
“Our wish is unfettered destination accessibility in domestic tourism.”
Apparently, African government have subsidised loss-making national airlines during periods of turmoil, but this has also led to financial mismanagement in the mostly state-run national airlines.
Air Zimbabwe drained at least US$3 million per week from the fiscus during the period of recession.
In Zimbabwe, hostile domestic airway policies that have blocked the entrance of efficient private airlines on key routes have not only stifled the development of the aviation industry but had made accessibility to tourism destinations difficult.
However, demand for faster and efficient transportation systems has been robust.
Several privately run airlines have failed because government, which controls 100 percent shareholding in Air Zimbabwe, is both regulator and competitor.
Through the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ), government dictates which airline plies which routes, or who should be granted a licence.
Private airlines have been shut out of dominant routes like Harare-Victoria Falls, Harare-Bulawayo, and even the South African route to protect Air Zimbabwe.
Some government ministers are getting increasingly concerned.
In Zimbabwe, businesses have queried the rationale behind barring private players from domestic routes when it had become clear that Air Zimbabwe had become unreliable.