Video of the week – A new dawn? It has been a long, long journey, but are African skies finally ready to open and will the continent’s airlines finally be able to fly in a liberalised environment?

All eyes are on Africa as it works to deliver a long-promised liberalisation to enhance air connectivity within the Continent, now under the guise of the African Union backed Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).

One of the most common phrases heard at conferences and seminars concerning Africa is the need to develop a ‘United Africa’. This would certainly have benefits when it comes to air transportation. Africa covers more than 30 million square kilometres and is home to more than a billion people.

Due to its challenging terrain, air transport is often the best — sometimes the only — way to connect the continent. Africa needs safe, efficient and affordable air transport links to make the most of its people and resources. It is clear that to facilitate air transport growth there is a need for enhanced connectivity and cooperation within the Continent.

Indeed, African ministers responsible for civil aviation themselves acknowledged this back in 1999, when they adopted the Yamoussoukro Decision, named for the Ivorian city in which it was agreed. This committed its 44 signatory countries to deregulate air services and open regional air markets to transnational competition and followed up on the Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1988, in which many of the same countries agreed to principles of air service liberalisation. In 2000, the ‘Decision’ was endorsed by head of states and governments at the Organization of African Unity, and became fully binding in 2002. However, progress has been painfully slow.

It has been a long, long journey to open Africa’s skies, but SAATM is showing some real progress. However, sovereignty issues could still hold back its implementation. Abderahmane Berthé, secretary general, African Airlines Association (AFRAA) says 28 states have signed a commitment to SAATM, but only 16 have signed the memorandum of implementation.

SAATM is a flagship part of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 reform package and is meant to boost connectivity between African states, reduce fares and stimulate economic growth through air transport and tourism. Some major nations have subsequently dismissed SAATM as offering no benefit, while others have called for more time to develop local entities before opening the market to competition.

We have been on the verge of progress many times before and despite promises they failed to deliver change. Whatever the outcome of SAATM, a clear air transport strategy is required across the Continent and this should be based upon strong analytical evidence and must be implemented with precision.

Yvonne Manzi Makolo, CEO, RwandAir is optimistic. “I’m hopeful this time is the right time,” she says. “There has been a change in mindset.” However, she warns that “it’s good to open the skies, but when the borders are closed,” the problems will remain.

She says RwandAir continues to struggle with fifth freedom rights and particularly the repatriation of funds from some African states. “It is sometimes easier to fly from Africa to Paris and back to connect to destinations on the Continent. That needs to change,” she adds.

We are now certainly the closest we have ever been to allowing Africa to fulfil its aviation potential, but we need to stop talking and take action. And with a clearer aviation strategy we can be a little more confident the African aviation market will finally see a new dawn.

LEARN MORE… Watch our exclusive CAPA TV video interviews with Abderahmane Berthé, secretary general, African Airlines Association (AFRAA) and Yvonne Manzi Makolo, CEO, RwandAir, recorded on the sidelines of the CAPA Qatar Aviation Aeropolitical and Regulatory Summit in Doha in Feb-2019.

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