By Yohannes Anberbir  

Ethiopian AirlinesAddis Ababa, Ethiopia - The Minister of Transport (MoT) told parliamentarians this week that it has started to shield away part of the country’s air space from some of the gulf carriers based in oil rich countries, citing unfair competitive edge in the form of much cheaper airfares. Diriba Kuma, Minister of Transport, responding to inquiries posed by lawmakers said early this week that government has the responsibility to protect its sole national flag carrier from fierce competition coming from airlines based in the gulf region. According to the minister, these airlines do have unfair competitive edge when it comes to the price of fuel, one of the most daunting challenges that Ethiopian has so far.

“They charge an extremely low price, considering the market price of air transportation at the moment,” he said. And the government has the responsibility to protect our airline as these countries are exploiting their comparative advantage in oil resources. Diriba referred to one of the prominent gulf airlines, Etihad Airways, as an example of those competing unfairly in the industry. He also told the lawmakers that the airline has requested access to Ethiopian air space at a frequency of 14 flights a week.

“There is no economic rational for agreeing to such arrangements,” Diriba said. He also said that currently, the only three African national flag carriers that are operational in the continent are Kenya and South Africa in addition to Ethiopian. Meanwhile, the rest of the market is dominated by foreign airlines. Of the other two, he argued further, Ethiopian seems to be in a better position in terms of flight destinations and service but it still has 15 to 20 destinations and that is very low by any standard. As far as we are concerned, we are affording the necessary protection to the airline while other plans to collaborate with Kenya and South Africa are also in pipeline, he said.

It is to be remembered that Etihad Airways has accused the Ethiopian Civil Aviation of shielding its air space from it after an MoU signed between the two nations gave it the right to access Ethiopian air space.