Single african air transport market imminent

  • To be launched January 2018
  • Botswana one of the first to sign up
  • Embattled Air Botswana will benefit
  • Tourism industry to benefit from increased African market exposure

The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat last week announced the anticipated launch date for the Single African Air Transport Market as January 2018. In his 2018 New Year message the AU Chairperson stated that Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) was a key component of the AU’s Agenda 2063.
Twenty-three Member States committed to the Single Air Market, the implementation of which will increase the number of routes, reduce the cost of air travel and contribute to the expansion of intra-African trade and tourism, according to AU experts.
Air Botswana, currently being considered for privatisation by the Government, is registered as a beneficiary of the SAATM by virtue of Botswana being one of the twenty one Member States that have signed the solemn commitment for the implementation of the project. The venture, as it currently stands accounts for more than 70% of intra African air traffic, opening new opportunities for the embattled airline.
The AU Chairpersons remarks come on the back of the 3rd Ministerial Working Group Meeting on the Single African Air Transport Markets (SAATM) held in Addis Ababa in December 2017, with participants calling on African Union (AU) Member States to implement the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision.
Soteri Gatera, Chief of the Industrialization & Infrastructure Section of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), during his opening remarks at the 3-day meeting, noted that liberalising the air transport market would lead to increased air services and route competition, resulting in lower fares.
“African airlines are waiting for the African open skies. More airlines, especially low-cost carriers would be created to serve the continent’s internal air transport needs,” said Mr. Soteri who also deplored the fact that “African countries have more bilateral open sky agreements with partners outside the continent than with African partners.”
Among the expected outcomes of the meeting is the Signing of a Memorandum of Cooperation between the African Civil Aviation Commission and Regional Economic Commissions on the implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision and management of the single African air transport market; and a final plan for the launch of the SAATMs in January 2018.
Soteri stated that, “it is very important that we finalize the open skies agreement now in order to take full advantage of the Continental Free Trade Area Agreement, which will soon go effective.”
The 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision provides for the full liberalisation of intra African air transport services in terms of market access, the free exercise of first, second, third, fourth and fifth freedom traffic rights for scheduled and freight air services by eligible airlines. The Decision removes restrictions  on  ownership  and provides  for  the full  liberalisation  of  frequencies,  tariffs  and capacity within the aviation sector.
In addition the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision allows for eligibility criteria for African community carriers, safety and security standards, mechanisms for fair competition and dispute settlement as well as consumer protection.
According to an AU analysis conducted in 2017, the full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision, will give rise to a “single market that is expected to evolve into a common aviation area, with the abolition of bilateral air service agreement between Member States for intra Africa traffic with airlines able to fly any intra African routes based on economic and financial considerations of the market, facilitation of trade in services and free movement of goods, enhanced cross border investment in the industry, recognition of community  airlines  owned  by  African  nationals with  efficient  and  effective  regional  safety oversight  agencies,  application  of  high safety,  security  and  technical  standards, harmonised competition regulation and the revision of visa requirements to enable the free movement of Africans in the Continent.”
The single air transport market will also guarantee the basic rights of the consumer with a dispute settlement mechanism through negotiation and arbitration, with a Board of Appeal and an Arbitration Tribunal to be established.
The African Union (AU) will retain overall responsibility in respect of formulating policies for the aviation industry in Africa with the aim of accelerating the political and socio-economic integration of the Continent. The AU Assembly, made up of all the Heads of State or Government of Member States, is the highest decision making organ of the AU. Its Decision are implemented through the African Union Commission (AUC).
The implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision currently lies under the overall supervision of the Specialised Technical Committee (STC) on Transport, Transcontinental and Interregional Infrastructure, Energy and Tourism.
Member States and their respective Civil Aviation Authorities will continue to have responsibility for maintaining the minimum standards of safety and security as required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and in accordance with their national laws.
National airlines play a major role in influencing the formulation of aviation policies in the Continent. Many African Airlines are members of the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), the association responsible for protecting the general interest of its members.  The establishment of the Single African Air Transport Market is supported by members of AFRAA who account for 85% of the total international traffic carried by African airlines.
David Kajange, Head of the Transport and Tourism Division at the African Union (AU), says more than 20 countries, South Africa, Benin, Botswana, Cape Verde, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe, have committed to the single African air transport market. He expects more than 40 will have signed on by its launch in January.
The single African air transport market forms part of an Open Skies for Africa vision, first realised in the 1980s. It culminated in the adoption of the Yamassoukro Decision of African heads of state in November 1999.
Kajange, speaking during the December Conference, stated that Africa became the most expensive air transport market in the world because of individual nations’ policies and regulations that hinder air connectivity.
The current size of the Single African Air Transport market is comparable to the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite free trade area with 26 countries, a population of 527 million persons with an estimated GDP of $624 billion.