The African Union (AU) launched the much talked about Single African Air Transport Market in spite of harsh criticism from member states and African airlines.
The AU officially launched SAATM at the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union that was held at its headquarters in Addis Ababa late last month.
The new Chairman of the AU and President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, remarked that the launch of SAATM represents a huge step forward for the development of Africa’s air transport industry.
To commemorate the landmark event, Kagame along with AU Chairperson, Mossa Faki Mohamat, and Togo President, Faure Gnassingbé, champion of the single market, cut a ceremonial ribbon at the plaque at AU.
However, Africans remain divided on the SAATM with some African nations putting up major resistance to its application while other airlines continue to bash the endeavor.
Ugandan president Yoweri Musevini relayed the fear that SAATM would result in the supremacy of African skies for a few African airlines, some of which already hold established names in the industry.
“Few airlines are going to dominate and that is not good,” Museveni said. He said he would much rather that African countries create regional airlines first before liberalizing their skies.
Nigerian private airline association Airline Operators of Nigeria has also condemned the policy and stressed that ministers did not include the group in the review and negotiations that led up to the endorsement of its implementation.
The Nigerian airlines is pining for a “level playing field” where Nigeria can hold its ground against other African carriers, which still benefit from some protectionism, lower interest rates on loans, and waivers on import duty for aircraft and spares.
Meanwhile, African aviation officials have opposed assertions by modestly sized carriers that only major carriers would benefit from the project.
Sossina Iyabo, the Secretary General of the African Civil Aviation Commission, emphasized that the SAATM would serve every African country and airline no matter the size by enhancing air connectivity, bolstering passenger traffic, and driving economic development forward.
“When you live in fear you do not make progress. But you can overcome your fear by coming out and looking at what is in it for you and taking your share from the market.
“Even if you do not have an airline every state will benefit from SAATM. Because you benefit from increased passenger movement, your airport would benefit, air navigation services will benefit, your downstream sectors… the aviation value chain will benefit. Every entity that works in the airport environment will benefit,” Iyabo said.
Nigeria is one of 11 champion member states that pledged its commitment to the African open skies agreement called the Yamoussoukro Decision, which paves the way for full liberalization in terms of market access between African states; the free exercise of traffic rights; the elimination of restrictions on ownership; and the full liberalization of frequencies, fares, and capacities.
“The Nigerian airlines are not yet able to see the benefits of SAATM as their government [does],” said Iyabo.
“They are not as visionary as they should be.”
SAATM is one of the main goals of the AU’s Agenda 2063, which seeks to link Africa through air transport and other transport infrastructure to attain economic integration and boost intra-African trade.