Nearly decades after its proposal, Africa’s single aviation market has been launched to boost connectivity, but with caution that more work is needed to create genuinely open skies.
The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is one of the flagship projects of the African Union Agenda 2063 for the socio-economic transformation of the continent.
Aviation experts at the recent AU Summit in Addis Ababa said that liberalising skies across Africa will have a positive impact on the continent’s economic growth. Twenty three countries signed the SAATM.
Abou Zeid Amani, AU Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, said that with airlines now flying freely, cases of travellers being forced to spend long hours or days in transit due to infrequent connecting flights will be minimal.
“This move will enable easy, quick and cheap movement of passengers across the continent. Liberalising intra-African air transport is also a contributor to economic growth, job creation and integration of the continent,” said Dr Amani.
Players in the aviation industry said poor intra-African connectivity is to blame for travellers having to travel thousands of kilometres out of the continent just to make a connection to another African destination.
For instance, a direct flight between Algeria (Algiers) and Nigeria (Lagos) would take about four and a half hours. But that service is not available.
The demand for air travel within Africa is forecast to more than treble over the next 20 years — growing from 75 million passengers in 2016 to more than 240 million per annum by 2035.
Africa’s aviation sector currently supports over $72 billion in GDP, creating 6.8 million jobs, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) for Africa, which welcomed the open skies pact launch, but cautioned that implementation is key.
Boeing managing director for sub-Saharan Africa Joao Miguel Santos said an additional 25,000 pilots will be needed on the continent to implement the pact.
Sadly, 80 per cent of the continent’s long-haul traffic is dominated by non-African carriers and the average cost of a flight in Africa is higher than anywhere else in the world.
Evidence shows that open skies agreements have worked in other regions like Europe and Latin America (Chile, Costa Rica and Brazil).
In 2015, the African Civil Aviation Commission and IATA commissioned a study on the benefits of full air transport liberalisation among five East African Community countries — Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Kenya.
The results showed that it would add 46,320 jobs and $202.1 million in GDP per annum, increase traffic by 46 per cent, reduce fares by nine per cent and increase frequency by 41 per cent.
Many African airlines are struggling with cash flow and have been reporting losses, despite a significant reduction in fuel prices, according to Ethiopian Airways CEO Tewolde Gebremariam.
Africa currently has about 720 aircraft, but this figure is only 4.1 per cent of the global fleet.
“To ensure a fully liberalised industry, African airlines need to enter into partnerships that will result in co-ordinated intra-African networks. A good example is the ASKY Airlines, which operates across several West and Central African countries,” said Mr Tewolde