•We are not aware, local airlines say
Nigeria and 16 African countries have agreed to begin implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), starting with the test-run of the initiative.
By the new agreement, the 17 countries, out 35 SAATM signatories, will fully open their air transport markets immediately to one another and without conditions.
It is also expected that member-States’ eligible airlines would take advantage of SAATM and expand their operations across Africa.
However, local airlines have again denied knowledge of the initiative or the new pact to open up the Nigerian market in the pilot phase.
While the Federal Government is planning the new national carrier to spearhead SAATM, local airline operators reiterated that they should not be shoehorned into continental aeropolitics that is allegedly designed to rip-off the Nigerian market in favour of bigger African airlines.
Recall that about 35 African Heads of State and Government in January 2018 signed the SAATM treaty to enable all African airlines to fly into signatory countries without restrictions.
Meeting at the 23rd anniversary of Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD) in Dakar, Senegal, recently, Aviation and Transport Ministers of the 17 countries launched the SAATM Project Implementation Pilot (PIP), as a milestone in the efforts to push open sky initiative.
Among the countries are: Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroun, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo and Zambia. All these States were adjudged to have domestic carriers eligible to participate in the SAATM.
In setting the scene for the event, Secretary General of African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), Adefunke Adeyemi, informed that the commission, in collaboration with all the stakeholders, would proceed with clear actions and timelines to achieve SAATM implementation.
Adeyemi said AFCAC would generate more publicity with enhanced visibility to raise further awareness among stakeholders of SAATM’s activities and a dedicated section of the AFCAC website will spotlight the SAATM States and celebrate their efforts while encouraging new States to sign up to SAATM.
A member of the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) yesterday, told The Guardian that the local operators were unaware of the test-run of SAATM.
“I’m hearing it for the first time, though I’m not surprised. Unfortunately, that is how we roll in this part of the world. Since 2018 that they have been at it, we have been warning that it is not in the interest of Nigeria to keep having ministry officials negotiate policies with other African countries without knowledgeable operators at the decision table.
“Now, they are opening up our market without the local operators in the know. Even if the unborn Nigeria Air will represent the country, we the airlines are also stakeholders and should be part of the operations. Otherwise, there is a sinister plan to run us out of business and we will surely resist that,” he said.
A recent continental study on the benefits of SAATM identified key benefits of SAATM implementation, including $4.2 billion additional Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 596,000 new jobs, 27 per cent reduction in fares and contribution to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN-SDGs).
The study also assessed the level of YD implementation and the efficacy of SAATM operationalisation for each member-State and arrived at a “preparedness” rating using the SAATM-enablers – a stand-alone air transport policy that contributes to the holistic aviation framework.
It will be recalled that the YD entered into force in July 2000 following its endorsement by the African Heads of State and Government in Lomé, Togo. The main objective of the AU leaders was to improve connectivity and integration of the continent through liberalisation of scheduled and non-scheduled air transport services within Africa and removing all restrictions on traffic rights, capacity and frequency between city pairs for all African airlines.
The launch of SAATM as the first flagship project of the AU Agenda 2063 on 28 January 2018 is considered as a turning point towards the full liberalisation of the air transport market on the continent.
The pilot phase was meant to accelerate the implementation of the YD leading to the full and sustainable implementation of SAATM. It is expected that the activity will culminate in these member-States aligning their respective Air Service Agreements (ASAs) during the ICAN2022 event scheduled for Abuja, Nigeria in December 2022.