Why the Single African Air Transport Market is Welcome

 

No meeting on African aviation comes to an end without predictable lamentations about the non-implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999. The participants will inevitably moan, groan and lament as to why the governments cannot see the ‘obvious benefits’ of implementing its provisions. The Yamoussoukro Decision provided for the full liberalisation of intra-African air transport services in terms of access, capacity and frequency. This is now happening, with the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) on January 28, 2018.

Governments have been slow to walk the talk when it comes to liberalisation. Liberalising aviation is particularly difficult for many countries. Aviation has long been a convenient milch cow for money-hungry governments as an easy source of national revenue for the economy. Taxes on aviation are easy to administer. The mode of transport is considered elitist, and governments do not hesitate to overload the industry with ever more taxes.

The main impediments to the implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision are:

  • Protection of some select existing players at the expense of the country (e.g. national carriers)
  • African states have refused to open their skies to each other, but they have opened them to carriers from other continents, e.g. Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines are planning to link Kigali in Rwanda and Entebbe in Uganda using Fifth Freedom rights. Emirates is already operating the same freedom between Entebbe and Addis Ababa
  • Restrictive BASAs

It would be too optimistic to expect everyone to support the implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM). I particularly expect airlines, specifically National Carriers, to oppose this gambit. SAATM is one the the 12 key projects identified by the African Union in its Agenda 2063. Three  of the other flagship projects are the African passport; enabling of free movement of people and Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). The SAATM will act as an enabler to the other three projects mentioned above, and hence the priority of its launch.

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