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African countries take critical steps in open skies agreement
Angeline Simana, Director of Air Transport, African Civil Aviation Commission

African countries take critical steps in open skies agreement

The African Union member states are making significant progress in the implementation of the African open skies agreement dubbed Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).   

Launched in January 2018, SAATM is the flagship project of Africa’s integration Agenda 2063. SAATM aims at creating a common African air transport market by eliminating physical barriers. Based in Dakar, Senegal the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) is the executive agency of SAATM.   

Angeline SIMANA, Director Air Transport, AFCAC, presented the progress update on the implementation of SAATM during the African Union Commission (AUC) Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) Week Summit held from November 25-29 in Cairo, Egypt.

SIMANA said 32 African countries made solemn commitment to implement SAATM. There were only 11 countries which signed the pact at the launch in January 2018. Out of 32 signatory countries 18 have signed the implementation agreement. SIMANA said there are six concrete measures that countries should take to implement SAATM. 

The benefits of SAATM includes: increase air connectivity, reduce fare by more than 25 percent, creating 700,000 direct and two million indirect jobs. It will help create socio economic and political integration, makes air travel convenient and increases national GDP, according to AFCAC.   

It all started in 1988 when African ministers responsible for air transport crafted a new policy for Africa to improve air connectivity to ensure the continent’s competitiveness. Following that in 1999, the ministers made a historic decision known as the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) to liberalize the African skies for African airlines. The decision was adopted by the Assembly of Heads of States and Government in July 2000 in Lome ,Togo. 

SIMANA said the aim was to connect Africa by air better and boost intra Africa trade. “By doing that there is a sacrifices to make-letting go old way of doing business,” she said. According to her, SAATM aims at eliminating the physical barriers that still hamper the sustainable development of air transport in Africa and creating a conducive environment for development and provision of safe, reliable and affordable air transport services. “Establishing a liberalized intra Africa aviation market in relation to exchange of traffic rights between state parties.” 

The assembly of heads of states and government of the AU adopted a declaration on the creation of a liberalized air transport market in 2015 and subsequently SAATM was launched by 11 champion states in January 2018. Benin, Capo Verde, Republic  of  Congo,  Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, and Zimbabwe are the eleven champion states that signed the  initial  commitment.  The solemn commitment is open for other states to join.  

AFACA as technical advisory of the AU reports to Ministers of Air Transport. Transport Ministers are responsible for the consistent and full implementation of SAATM. They provide guidance and through AFCAC spearhead advocacy to all African states to subscribe to SAATM. “SAATM aims at driving economic integration and boosting competitiveness,” SIMANA said. “No country should be left behind,” she added. However, she hinted that there is reluctance among some member states to implement SAATM adding that progress report on the implementation of SAATM will be presented to the AU and Ministers of Transport soon.

Hiwot Mosisa, state minister of Transport, who participated at the PIDA Week, told The Reporter that as a champion state, Ethiopia, has a keen interest in the implementation of SAATM. “We are encouraged by the significant steps member states are taking. We fully cooperate with the AU and AFCAC,” Hiwot said.  

The AUC which is advocating for the open skies agreement recently hired senior air transport policy officer, Eric Ntagengerwa, who is closely working with AFCAC. Ntagengerwa said the AUC and AFCAC are working towards the full implementation of SAATM. “Countries are taking serious measures. We are trying to create awareness among member states on the benefits of SAATM. It does not happen overnight,” he added.    

 SAATM is a flagship project of the African Union Agenda 2063, an initiative of the African Union to create a single unified air transport market in  Africa,  the  liberalization  of  civil  aviation  in  Africa  and  as  an  impetus  to  the Continent’s economic integration agenda. During the commemoration of the  50th anniversary  of  the OAU / AU in 2013, the African Union (AU) leadership expressed the desire to give a stronger and more ambitious impetus to the Continent’s socio-economic development and integration agenda. On that occasion, the African Union Agenda 2063 was elaborated in which some flagship projects were selected and included on the basis of their high potential for changing the  face  of  Africa  substantively  in  that  duration.  Among these projects are the creation of a Single African Air Transport Market and the African Passport.          

Aviation supports 55.8 billion US dollars to the continent’s GDP and 6.2 million jobs. The demand for air travel in Africa is expected to double in the next two decades. Africa had 140 million passengers in 2018. With 4.6 percent compound annual growth rate African aviation market is the second fastest growing region next to the Middle East, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

More than 700 delegates participated in the PIDA Week 2019 Summit organized by the AUC, NEPAD and the African Development Bank (AfDB) and hosted by the government of Egypt at the Grand Nile Tower Hotel, in Cairo, Egypt.

Since its inception in 2015, PIDA Week has evolved and grown to become the flagship advocacy and marketing event for the PIDA program and specifically projects in need of financing. The format of the event provides an opportunity to engage and exchange information on PIDA in particular and infrastructure development in general.