From the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) of 1999 to the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) of 2018, countries in the African continent have gone through years of hard work and negotiations facing several challenges to liberalise the continent’s air transport. It looks like the African sky is going to be much more open. Roy Ezze checks the tailwind.

Africa closed out 2022 with remarkable achievements in driving air transport liberalisation, harmonisation of air services agreements and harmonisation of air transport economic regulation. This unprecedented turn-of-events has raised strong hopes across the continent and viewed as a prelude to more outstanding achievements in air transport liberalisation and aviation development in 2023.

Africa has in recent years sought to establish a workable and updated framework to actualise unfettered air transport market access within Africa for African airlines, and for the benefit of Africa’s economy.

Liberalisation in Africa had continually stalled since the concept was established by Africa’s top political leaders as a Declaration in 1988, which was firmed up as the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) in 1999. Africa has painstakingly rejigged the YD liberalisation framework under a new implementation mechanism called the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) which was launched by the African Union (AU) in January 2018 in Addis Ababa. Towards the end of 2022, the SAATM, with the approval of the AU, was fitted out with updated and improved vital instruments including the dispute settlement mechanism and competition rules which were previously lacking in the YD and largely caused stagnation of the YD. With this, Africa is set to implement its liberalisation under the SAATM.

Adefunke Adeyemi, AFCAC’s Secretary General with Carla Iorio of European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)

Adefunke Adeyemi, AFCAC’s Secretary General with Carla Iorio of European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA)

MASAs drive interconnectivity
Africa celebrated the YD Day 2022 in November in Dakar, Senegal, with the launch of the ambitious SAATM Pilot Implementation Project (PIP) involving 18 pilot States. More remarkably, the continent tested its resolve to implement the policy harmonisation for the liberalisation of its air transport market as the pilot States and others engaged in robust discussions and agreements during the global Air Services Negotiation event (ICAN) organized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Abuja, Nigeria, in December 2022.

“Over 400 participants representing 63 countries concluded 212 new international air services agreements at ICAO’s 2022 Air Services Negotiation (ICAN) event,” ICAO stated. ICAO Council President Salvatore Sciacchitano stated that “the progressive resurgence of the air transport industry is proceeding at a post-pandemic pace,” saying also that the agreements at the event would add to the recovery’s momentum.

Further, “Multilateralism and the work embarked on here continue to be essential to global success,” he added, “and to the restoration of global travel, trade and tourism capacity in all world regions.”

For Africa, the event was a platform to deepen its liberalisation, interconnectivity and integration of various parts of the continent. It was an opportunity to enthrone SAATM-compliant Multilateral Air Services Agreements (MASAs) and effectively eliminate the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) that are prohibitive to market access and liberalisation within Africa.

To fast-track the achievement of SAATM and liberalisation in Africa, the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC) has implored African States to ensure intra-African air services agreement going forward should be multilateral or plurilateral to drive liberalisation on the continent. Ideally, therefore, SAATM-compliant African states were not expected to sign bilateral air services agreements at the ICAO ICAN 2022.

Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Togo, Rwanda, South Africa among several other African States signed agreements at the ICAO ICAN in Abuja, thereby weaving the foreground of air transport liberalisation which is expected to create dozens of city-pairs and points-beyond in Africa from 2023. Representatives of Zambia at the ICAO ICAN expressed excitement signing with Benin Republic, and expect to sign with more African states. This pervasive high-spirits and conviction over the benefits of harmonized air transport market in Africa enveloped the air services negotiation conference in Abuja. Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, assured ICAO and AFCAC of Nigeria’s resolve to support SAATM and Africa’s integration.

Hadi Sirika, Minister of Transport of Nigeria, said “we will further strengthen our resolve to implement SAATM in line with AU Agenda 2063.”

Anthony Derjacques, Minister of Transport of Seychelles, enthused that Seychelles has signed many agreements at the ICAO ICAN, including with Nigeria; and looks forward to “seamless air travel” ipso facto.

Mohamed Rahma, Director of ICAO’s Air Transport Bureau, saw the ICAO ICAN as a remarkable success, with 100 virtual participants from 60 states. He tasked African states to implement SAATM without hesitation, and assured of ICAO’s support, as he also urged states to digitally register all air services agreements with ICAO.

Olumuyiwa Benerd Aliu, immediate-past President of ICAO Council, enjoined African States to make a difference with the new beginning of SAATM implementation to interconnect African cities and stir up Africa’s economies.

On the sidelines of the ICAO ICAN 2022, AFCAC delivered a powerful workshop showcasing the thrust and benefits of the SAATM and the SAATM Pilot Implementation Project (PIP) to African and global audience and partners. Adefunke Adeyemi, AFCAC’s Secretary General, explained that there is a framework to engage and elicit concrete implementation of SAATM, which begins with AFCAC engaging the highest level of government, the ministers and regulators, operators and support stakeholders, including non-core aviation economic sectors such as finance, immigration, national planning, interior, export and import ministries, and others.

So far, 19 willing states have joined the SAATM PIP programme, while 36 states have signed for SAATM. The world now looks forward to liberalisation of air transport in Africa.

Based on the experience of the European Union (EU) on liberalisation, Peter Bombay, representative of the EU at ICAO, encouraged Africa to begin implementation of SAATM with few states in the pilot project, while others join in over the coming years. This view was one of the most remarkable outcomes of the SAATM workshop in Abuja.

Delegates at the ICAO ICAN 2022 held in Abuja, Nigeria

Delegates at the ICAO ICAN 2022 held in Abuja, Nigeria

Africa’s air cargo gets new tailwind
Air cargo is a major thrust and beneficiary of SAATM liberalisation and interconnectivity in Africa, and delegates at the air services event emphasized the essence of cargo and interconnectivity.

While cargo was the bulwark for many airlines during the Covid-19 pandemic and airlines converted their passenger aircraft to ‘preighters’, cargo is set again to lift airlines in Africa from the nadir of their existence. Africa still contributes only 1.9% of global cargo, according to IATA’s report in January 2023. Many expect Africa’s negligible cargo share to significantly increase over the next 3-5 years on the back of liberalisation and improved air interconnectivity in Africa.

Essentially, air cargo which is poorly developed in Africa will permeate Africa along new routes, city-pairs and points-beyond expected which would be created by ongoing liberalisation efforts and multilateral air services agreements within Africa. The ongoing liberalisation efforts are expected to produce 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Freedom markets in parts of Africa which would drive movement of increased cargo within the continent or at least the SAATM Pilot states.

In fact, RwandAir said it is giving special offers for air cargo shippers as the airline recently set up its cargo arm. There is strong expectation that new cargo-only airlines would emerge, attracted by Africa’s current liberalisation and MASAs regime in Africa.

At the moment, Africa’s air cargo is driven by few excellent players like Allied Air based in Lagos, Nigeria, which is the largest cargo-only carrier in West and Central Africa; as well as Astral Aviation based in Nairobi, Kenya, alongside bigger African airlines including Ethiopian Airlines Cargo and Kenya Airways Cargo.

Yet most of Africa’s cargo is carried by foreign carriers mainly from the Middle East and Europe. While Saudi Arabia spoke enthusiastically about the groundswell of improvement in cargo and 7th freedom in the state, the Minister of Transport emphasized the importance of embracing the new cargo market in Africa.

Interconnectivity to cut emissions
As 2023 kicks off, the establishment of new city-pairs and points-beyond in Africa would not only rev up cargo movement, but would also shorten flight duration generally in Africa, thereby cutting down on emissions that ensue from unnecessary long flights normally embarked on just to interconnect adjacent cities in Africa.

This feature was originally published in the Jan - Feb 2023 issue of Logistics Update Africa.

Read Full Article