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The Single African Sky Gamble



The African Union (AU) Commission launched its first Agenda 2063 Flagship project, the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on January 28, 2018 as a historic event at the African Union Summit, nearly two decades after the adoption of the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision.

Speaking ahead of the launch event, Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, 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, including tourism resulting in the creation of an additional 300,000 direct and two million indirect jobs contributing immensely to the integration and socio-economic growth of the continent.”

The Commissioner stated that the aviation industry currently supports eight million jobs in Africa and hence 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.

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.

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 African Union Commission, under the leadership and personal commitment of H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, has been playing a key coordinating role in the establishment of the Single African Air Transport Market and advocacy to AU Member States, who have not yet committed to the solemn commitment, to do so,” the Commissioner intimated.

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

“As the first of the 12 African Union’s Agenda 2063 flagship projects to be launched, the implementation of SAATM will pave the way for other flagship projects as the African Passport and enabling the Free Movement of People, the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA),” Commissioner Abou-Zeid stressed.

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 (11) AU Member States declared their Solemn Commitment to establish a Single African Air Transport Market through full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999 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.

To date, the number of Member States that have adhered to the Solemn Commitment has reached twenty-three (23), namely: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

The forgoing was copied directly from AU website.

The gamble: the U.S. open skies policy has transformed international aviation since the first agreement was struck with the Netherlands in 1992, removing all barriers on air service between the signatory countries and allowing any airline domiciled in either country to serve the other with few restrictions. But in recent years, the three largest U.S carriers—Delta Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines—and their unions have grown increasingly alarmed by the inroads the three Gulf carriers- Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways –were making into the U.S markets.

The African open skies will no doubt enhance aviation development in Africa through creation of more jobs for the up -and -coming young aviation professionals. It is also an easy path to free movement of people, goods and services; whereby, with time, entry visa requirements should be proscribed. The benefits are enormous, if there is a level -playing ground for all.

As it is right now, only 24 countries of the 55 African countries have committed to the project, which indicates the unwillingness of the others to either participate or, “exhibit the wait and see” attitude. This attitude is dependent on the outcomes of the new integration programme.

It is needless to mention the disparity or variation in air transportation industry in Africa. While Ethiopia, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, and Morocco are robustly endowed with comparative advantage because of their airlines, Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, still suffers from epileptic commercial aviation business. In this instance, Nigeria is at a massive disadvantage if, as indicated, the Single African Air transport market becomes effective. Nigeria’s few under- performing carriers will not be able to compete; albeit they will have a larger market to explore.

This brings the core issue of international relations: domestics interest groups must be carried along while international agreements are negotiated, and even agreed upon. According to the Airline Operators of Nigeria’s (AON) chairman, Capt. Nogie Megisson, the association was not consulted before the decision to commit to the single sky project. This has already led to massive discontentment amongst the Nigerian airline operators. How, then, can the federal government of Nigeria pacify its domestic actors, while ratifying an international treaty?

Unfortunately, the minister of state, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, is highly motivated with the agreement because, one of his key agendas has been the establishment of a national carrier, which will perfectly fit into the single sky algorithm. The funding for the national carrier should not be the government’s immediate agenda at this crucial time as the nation is bleeding profusely from the hyper- recession scourge. A national airline should not be an immediate project of this government, but support for the existing, struggling carriers.

If, as it seems, Nigeria is committed to the single African sky, then it will surely realize that the revenue generation in aviation industry will wane, and government must support some of the sector’s self-funding infrastructures, especially, the Nigerian Airspace management Agency (NAMA). This agency must effectively fund Air Traffic Management (ATM) in our national airspace.

The most demanding issues at stake are the pathologies of the proposed single African sky. What are the accepted variables of payments, or does a single sky mean freeriding on others airspace?

No one, not even the minister of state, Aviation understands the intricacies of this cooperation, but there must be an extension of time to bargain and move the stakeholders in Nigeria along. Failure to oblige to this simple request will undermine the value and efforts of those investing in the industry, who are very capable of truncating the single market project.

Nigeria is in a dilemma: it has ratified the agreement, just not to be viewed as a foolish big brother; and at the same time, it must find a way to convince the angry domestic players. As a complex nation of varying identities, the issue of a single African sky would have been settled domestically before committing itself to an international covenant.

Sadly, the bureaucrats, who are the decision makers, understand little of the perils of endorsing a negative project that can affect airline operators. This single gamble can, and will wipe out all the domestic airlines in Nigeria; but at the same time, if well-funded, domestic carriers should reap more gains. Well, let’s wait and see.



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