Will Open Skies Re­ally Ben­e­fit Africa?

Nomad Africa Magazine - - Inside Issue11 - Words: DI­ETER GÖTTERT

One fine day long ago in Ya­mous­soukro, in 1988 to be ex­act, 44 African states sat around a ta­ble in the cap­i­tal city of Côte d'Ivoire and agreed that they would all want to play a fair game in a huge air bub­ble. Fast for­ward 30 years later to 28 Jan­uary 2018, in Ad­dis Ababa, Ethiopia, the sign­ing of 23 par­tic­i­pat­ing gov­ern­ments marks the birth of the Sin­gle African Air Trans­port Mar­ket (“SAATM”) agree­ment. Voilà – the game has of­fi­cially started.

to the lay­man it all sounds French, but to avi­a­tion in­dus­try play­ers, it’s only just the be­gin­ning of what will hope­fully be a bur­geon­ing fully fledged, com­pet­i­tive air­line in­dus­try thereby lev­el­ling the African play­ing field be­tween air­lines. The Sin­gle African Air Trans­port Mar­ket (“SAATM”) is one of the flag­ship projects of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 en­sur­ing that avi­a­tion plays a ma­jor role in con­nect­ing Africa in achiev­ing so­cial, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­te­gra­tion and boost in­tra-Africa trade.

Orig­i­nally evolved from and known as the Ya­mous­soukro Dec­la­ra­tion in 1988, which then be­came the Ya­mous­soukro De­ci­sion (“YD”) in 1999, the re­cently signed SAATM re­mains the sin­gle most im­por­tant air trans­port re­form pol­icy ini­tia­tive by African Gov­ern­ments to date.

Why was this agree­ment nec­es­sary at all? Do we not have enough air­lines fly­ing the skies, or is all not as it seems to be? This is, of course, a naïve ques­tion if you are a role player in avi­a­tion – but not to the man in the street – of which there are mil­lions in Africa who are sim­ply not even aware of SAATM, but will be in­di­rectly af­fected at one time or an­other in the fu­ture.

Sim­ply put, it means chang­ing old avi­a­tion rules in or­der to let play­ers ex­plore undis­cov­ered fron­tiers in the game. The SAATM was im­ple­mented by recog­nis­ing and ac­knowl­edg­ing that re­stric­tive and pro­tec­tion­ist in­tra-African reg­u­la­tions ex­isted based pri­mar­ily on Bi­lat­eral Air Ser­vices Agree­ments (“BASAs”). These very agree­ments im­peded the growth and im­prove­ment of air trans­port on the African con­ti­nent. One of the vi­tal parts of the De­ci­sion was air ser­vice lib­er­al­i­sa­tion, which was viewed as a means to de­velop and free up African airspace. In essence, it is meant to open up air new travel routes within Africa and al­low the 23 sig­na­to­ries mul­ti­lat­eral ex­changes of up to fifth free­dom air traf­fic rights be­tween African des­ti­na­tions.

In or­der to fully un­der­stand what this ac­tu­ally means, we need to un­der­stand the con­cept of free­dom of the air rights. Free­doms of the air are a set of com­mer­cial avi­a­tion rights grant­ing a coun­try's air­line an al­lo­cated per­mis­sion to en­ter and land in an­other coun­try's airspace. The for­muli­sa­tion of these rights came about as a re­sult of dis­agree­ments be­tween in­ter­na­tional states over the ex­tent of avi­a­tion lib­er­al­i­sa­tion at the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Civil Avi­a­tion of 1944, known as the Chicago Con­ven­tion. These “free­doms” are the fun­da­men­tal build­ing blocks of in­ter­na­tional com­mer­cial avi­a­tion route net­works and con­fer en­ti­tle­ment to op­er­ate in­ter­na­tional air ser­vices only within the scope of var­i­ous ap­pli­ca­ble mul­ti­lat­eral and bi­lat­eral treaties (air ser­vices agree­ments) be­tween coun­tries.

Since 1944 avi­a­tion has grown ex­po­nen­tially and IATA’s work duly ex­panded, how­ever, the Chicago Con­ven­tion could not ini­tially re­solve the is­sue of who flies where, which re­sulted in the thou­sands of bi­lat­eral air trans­port agree­ments be­tween coun­tries in ex­is­tence to­day. Gov­ern­ments and avi­a­tion in­dus­try role play­ers needed a mech­a­nism that would not only dis­able pro­tec­tion­ist strate­gies that many African States em­ploy to pro­tect the ex­ist­ing (and fu­ture) mar­ket share of their do­mes­tic air­lines, but would also re­alise the full po­ten­tial and ben­e­fits of the Ya­mous­soukro De­ci­sion, thereby un­lock­ing the full po­ten­tial of the African avi­a­tion in­dus­try and help to en­hance con­nec­tiv­ity, fa­cil­i­tate trade and tourism, cre­ate em­ploy­ment, and en­sure that the avi­a­tion in­dus­try plays a more prom­i­nent role in the global econ­omy and sig­nif­i­cantly con­trib­ute to the AU’s Agenda 2063.

Ul­ti­mately, how will the new SAATM ben­e­fit avi­a­tion in Africa and open up the play­ing fields? We spoke to avi­a­tion ex­pert Lin­den Birns, manag­ing di­rec­tor of Plane Talk­ing:

“Un­der the cur­rent regime of re­stric­tive bi­lat­eral air trans­port agree­ments, cross­bor­der air­line flights must ei­ther orig­i­nate or ter­mi­nate in their home coun­try. SAATM en­vis­ages un­re­stricted ac­cess and op­er­a­tions be­tween any points on the con­ti­nent, with­out flights hav­ing to start or end in the air­line's home na­tion.”

“This is pre­cisely what has taken place in Europe un­der the EU and what gave rise to the big low cost car­ri­ers such as Ryanair, easy­Jet and Vuel­ing as well as niche re­gional feed­ers like FlyBe.”

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