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Implementation of the “Open Skies” Policy in Central Asia

The topic of “open skies” from the air carriage industry in recent years has increasingly begun to sound both in the media and in the lobbies of the governments of Central Asian countries. The reason for the actualization of this issue is the national interests of each of the states of the region on the development of the domestic aviation industry to increase revenues, increase trade, develop tourism and attract foreign investments.

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If the public officials understand the principles of the “open skies” and they advocate joining the association, a common man will need more detailed explanations of the meaning of the “open skies” policy implementation in his country.

“Open Skies”[1] is an international concept aimed at removing restrictions and creating a free market for a given sector of economy, i.e. the conditions in the air carriage market must be fair and equal to all participants, regardless the country of origin.

In the 1940s, when protectionism[2] flourished in countries around the world, in the United States was developed the Convention on International Civil Aviation as one of the tools to combat it. Within the framework of this convention, there were formulated 9 freedoms of airspace, on which countries could negotiate among themselves in order not to interfere with the development of transport communication. It is important to note that there can be unilateral, bilateral, and multilateral agreements between countries.

 Figure 1. Nine freedoms of airspace. Author: Askar Mukashev.

This distribution of airspace freedoms without difficulty allows every interested citizen to understand the conditions under which his state is switched to the “open skies” mode. For example, Kyrgyzstan signed an agreement with a fifth degree of air freedom to provide its airspace (see Figure 1). 

It should be understood that the “open skies” policy may also refer to military aviation, which is known as the “Treaty on Open Skies”, and it is necessary to distinguish between seemingly identical terms that are different in purpose. The “Treaty on Open Skies” established the regime of unarmed observation flights over the territories of the signatory states[3].

Experience of CIS countries

Kazakhstan is the first country today that has switched to the “open skies” mode among the countries of Central Asia. It is important to say that in the history of Kazakhstan there were two attempts to provide its airspace to foreign airlines.

 In the history of Kazakhstan there were two attempts to provide its airspace to foreign airlines. Photo: Ruslan Timerbayev / max-sky.lj.com

In first case it was decided to open the sky for foreign cargo air carriers in order to maintain the viability of Kazakhstan’s airports. However, this step did not allow getting the desired result. The main reason was the signing of a unilateral agreement by Kazakhstan, which led to the restriction of the Kazakh airlines’ activities on the territory of other neighboring countries.

The second attempt was more successful and was directly related to the international specialized exhibition EXPO-2017 in Astana. In 2017, the government of Kazakhstan decided to use the principles of the “open skies” in experimental conditions and grant foreign airlines the right to perform daily flights with the third and fourth degrees of air freedom to Astana. According to the results of this period, the increase in passenger air traffic flow was 88% on domestic routes, and 30% on international routes. At the same time there were opened 10 international routes. The government of Kazakhstan decided in this regard to extend the use of the “open skies” regime for Astana[4].

It should be mentioned that granting to foreign airlines an access to the Kazakh air transportation market did not affect the activities of domestic players, on the contrary, such companies as “Air Astana” and “Scat” gained an access to the European air transportation market. An important fact is the launch of the first domestic low-cost airline “FlyArystan” from March 2019, which will compete with rail carriers for the price policy, which means a two-fold reduction in air ticket prices. 

Positive political and economic transformations in Uzbekistan allowed the republic to follow the example of Kazakhstan. For the first time in early 2018 the idea of ​​ the “open skies” policy implementation was announced at a video-selector meeting on the development of the tourism sector by the president of the country Shavkat Mirziyoyev[5]. At present, the airspace of “Karshi” airport is open to foreign low-cost airlines. Moreover, there are plans to implement the “open skies” policy in the country at such airports as Andijan, Nukus and Navoi in 2019. The results of innovations in the airline industry of the country will not be long in coming. The first results of the “open skies” policy’s initiation in Uzbekistan are expected by the end of 2019.

This year the establishment in Kyrgyzstan showed a political will and made a decision to implement the “open skies” policy. Photo: Ruslan Timerbayev / mx-sky.lj.com

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are less active on this issue. If the Establishment in the first country this year showed a political will and decided to implement the “open skies” policy[6], in Tajikistan, the country’s top officials confined themselves only to the oral remarks of the president during a speech to foreign investors in early 2018 about the idea of providing airspace for foreign airlines[7].

Open the sky and wait for a “miracle” is not the right approach.
In the post-Soviet area, Georgia is comparatively the best example of the “open skies” regime implementation. It should be said that the “open skies” policy in this country has been in effect since 2005. At the same time in 2013 neighboring Armenia was included to the list of countries with “open skies”, but has still not achieved its goals following the opening of airspace for international airlines. It is necessary to mention the experience of Russia, where the “open skies” regime was applied in such cities as Vladivostok, Kaliningrad and Sochi. Also there was no jump in passenger or cargo traffic observed at these international airports. 

Implications

A comparative analysis of the three cases indicates the presence of significant factors that, in turn, directly affect the final result. Open the sky and wait for a “miracle” is not the right approach. Any government implementing the “open skies” policy in the country should take into account such significant development triggers as:

  1. Economic growth and income level of the population;
  2. Availability of management of international standard in the airline industry;
  3. Availability of fair competition and uniform rules for all market participants;
  4. Ensure security in the country;
  5. The attractiveness of the country for tourists;
  6. Availability of a competitive national air carrier and the industry as a whole;
  7. The development state of aircraft fleet and the industry as a whole in neighboring countries.


[1]
https://www.icao.int/Meetings/a39/Documents/Provisional_Doc_9626.pdf

[2] Protectionism is the protection of the domestic market from competing countries by settling customs and tax barriers, reducing the competition of other countries compared to nationally produced goods.

[3] https://www.osce.org/ru/library/14131

[4] http://today.kz/news/kazahstan/2017-10-24/752980-rezhim-otkryitogo-neba-dlya-aviaperevozchikov-prodlen-v-kazahstane/

[5] https://president.uz/ru/lists/view/1516

[6] https://vesti.kg/politika/item/57839-sooronbaj-zheenbekov-podpisal-zakon-ob-otkrytom-nebe.html

[7] http://www.president.tj/ru/node/1698
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The articles published in “Opinions” are solely personal opinions of the authors.