AU launches African single air transport market

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After decades of negotiations and stalemate, finally, African countries are set to launch the African single air transport market at the African Union Heads of State and Government Summit that will take place tomorrow at the union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa.  

After years of marathon negotiations and arduous legal paperwork the African Union Commission will launch the first AU Agenda 2063 flagship project, the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) as a historic event at the African Union Summit, nearly two decades after the adoption of the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision.

An exhibition billed “Flying the AU Agenda 2063 for an integrated, peaceful and prosperous Africa” will be unveiled to mark the launch, as well as ribbon cutting and the inauguration of the commemorative plaque.

The Declaration on the establishment of a Single African Air Transport Market, as a flagship project of the AU Agenda 2063, was adopted by the African Union (AU) Assembly in January 2015. Immediately thereafter, eleven AU Member States declared their Solemn Commitment to establish a Single African Air Transport Market through full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999 that provides for full liberalization of market access between African States, free exercise of traffic rights, elimination of restrictions on ownership and full liberalization of frequencies, fares and capacities.

The number of signatory countries has increased to 23 since then. Ten more countries have expressed interest to join the league.   

The development of air transport industry in Africa is restricted by bilateral air service agreements. African airlines have limited market access in African countries. Some African countries deny traffic rights to home grown airlines and yet grant permits to non-African carriers which is thwarting the growth of the continent’s airline industry.

Ethiopian Airlines in collaboration with the African Union, African Airlines Association and the African Civil Aviation commission (AFCAC) has been advocating for the full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision.

At a press conference held on Tuesday, Minister of Transport Ahmed Shidie said that, being the flagship project of the AU 2063 Agenda for the establishment of African Single Air Transport Market will pave the way for other flagship projects such as free trade area, and free movement of people. Ahmed said that, Ethiopia has always been one of the pioneer promoters of open skies in Africa and accordingly is one of the 11 champion states that declared solemn commitment to establishing a single African air transport market.

He said the realization of a single African air transport market is vital to the achievement of a long-term vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa which is AU’s 2063 agenda.

According to the AU Commission, the creation of the single African air transport market will create additional 300,000 direct jobs and two million indirect jobs. The establishment of a single African air transport market will spur economic development by boosting trade and tourism among African nations. Aviation in Africa supports eight million jobs and 80 billion dollars in GDP.

The Ethiopian government has established a national committee led by the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority on the establishment of the African single air transport market.  

Ethiopian Airlines Group CEO Tewolde Gebremariam, said that January 28, 2018 will be a historical day on which aviation leaders will witness the AU declare the full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Declaration. “This is obviously a huge millstone for the continent.”

Tewolde said that, the AU and its predecessor have been working very hard for the economic integration of Africa but despite all the efforts inter- Africa trade is only 15 percent of the total trade volume. “Compared to other continents like the European Union which stands at 60 percent is very low. So we need to integrate among our selves. We need to trade and invest. And the most critical economic enabler to boost trade, investment and tourism is aviation,” Tewolde said.

Failure to establish a single African air transport market enabled foreign airlines to concur African skies. According to Tewolde, 80 percent of the passenger traffic between Africa and other continents is carried by non African airlines. “All the major African carriers including Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Kenya Airways, TAAG Angola, Egypt Air, Royal Air Marroc, Tunis Air and Air Algerie combined have only a 20 percent market share. This is not fair. We are determined to change this. We should not be a by stander in our own continent,” he said.                     

Speaking ahead of the launch event, Amani Abou-Zeid (PhD) Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the African Union Commission said “With preparations continuing on schedule, the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market will spur more opportunities to promote trade, cross-border investments in the production and service industries.”

The Commissioner stated that, SAATM was created with the aim of enhancing connectivity, facilitating trade and tourism, creating employment, and ensuring that the industry plays a more prominent role in the global economy and significantly contributing to the AU’s Agenda 2063.

“The AU Summit will also see the adoption of the regulatory text of the Yamoussoukro Decision, that is, the competition and consumer protection regulations that safeguards the efficient operation of the market,” the Commissioner added.

Tefera Mekonnen, air transport director AFCAC, called up on all states to engage with AFCAC on the implementation of SAATM.

So far, 23 African countries out of 55 have subscribed to the Single African Air Transport Market whereas 44 African countries signed the Yamoussoukro Decision.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) are also advising African countries to open their skies for enhancement of connectivity and efficiency of air services in the continent.


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