The International Air Transport Association (Iata) has welcomed the launch of the African Union’s (AU’s) Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative. This is intended to improve intra-African air transport links by “opening up” the skies above the continent. The initiation of the SAATM project was announced by new AU president and President of Rwanda Paul Kagame at the recent Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the AU, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The SAATM is one of three leading priorities for the AU this year (the others being free movement across Africa and an African free trade area). In the words of the AU press release, the “SAATM is the first AU Agenda 2063 flagship project, which aims to create a single unified air transport market in Africa to liberalise civil aviation on the continent and to advance Africa’s economic integration agenda.”
Iata VP for Africa Raphael Kuuchi described the AU decision as “momentous” and an “important step forward”. Improving intra- African air connectivity would, he highlighted, boost the competitiveness of African airlines and make air transport more accessible to Africans. The consequences would include greater trade volumes, increased tourism and expanding commerce, both between African countries and between Africa and the rest of the world.
It is not the first initiative to open African skies. Previously, there had been the 1988 Yamoussoukro Declaration and the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision. But these had both lacked a supporting body of regulations. Now, the AU has adopted the regulatory text developed for the Yamoussoukro Decision as the framework for the SAATM. This covers issues such as dispute resolution, consumer protection and competition.
“The SAATM has the potential for [a] remarkable transformation that will build prosperity while connecting the African continent,” he said. “Every open-air service arrangement has boosted traffic, lifted economies and created jobs. And we expect no less in Africa on the back of the SAATM agreement. An Iata survey suggests that, if just 12 key African countries opened their markets and increased connectivity, an extra 155 000 jobs and $1.3-billion in annual GDP (gross domestic product) would be created in those countries.”
He commended the 23 countries that have signed up to the SAATM. But he cautioned that realising its benefits would only be possible if it was effectively implemented – firstly, by the 23 initial signatory countries and latterly by the 32 other African countries yet to join the initiative.
“The SAATM is a decisive step towards greater intra-African connectivity and delivers the framework on which to achieve it,” asserted Kuuchi. “Now it is time to get down to the work of implementation. Greater connectivity will lead to greater prosperity. Governments must act on their commitments and allow their economies to fly high on the wings of aviation.”
Separately, in mid-January, Iata director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac highlighted the importance of aviation to Africa, while participating in an Iata Aviation Day in Luanda, Angola. “Aviation is vitally important to Africa,” he affirmed. It currently supports 6.8-million jobs and contributes $73-billion in GDP across the continent. It connects people and businesses, enables trade and tourism, reunites families and friends, carries products to markets and vital medicines and aid to communities where they are needed.”
Iata represents about 280 airlines worldwide, which, together, are responsible for 83% of global air traffic.