Aviation Experts Express Divergent Views on Adoption, Success of Single Sky for Africa

Chinedu Eze

Aviation experts have expressed divergent views on the adoption and success of single sky for Africa, warning that Nigeria will be left behind if it does not take advantage of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).

Their position is in tandem with the Nigerian airlines that have expressed lukewarm attitude towards the open sky policy for Africa.

The single market is meant to allow significant freedom of air transport in Africa to aid the AU’s Agenda 2063 of transforming Africa into a global powerhouse and the removal of travel inhibitions like visas and certain immigration and airspace policies against African airlines.

It could be described as an offshoot of Yamoussoukro Declaration, which was meant to intergrate African carriers and gradually eliminate traffic rights and reducing tariifs, but the agenda failed because of the reluctance of many countries in the continent to fully embrace it.

Industry observers feel that the tendency to protect its indigenous airlines and the fear of comepetiion and dominace prompted some African countries to resist the agenda. This, they noted, has made air travel in the continent cumbersome, as visa restrictions and poor connections restricted tourism, inter-state business and other opportunities.

But last week the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sitika, announced that Africa had resolved to implement SAATM to advance liberalization and trade in the continent.

“The full implementation will guarantee the creation of a larger market for African carriers and an improved access to capital. In addition, airlines and governments can optimize existing capacities. It commits its 44 signatory countries to deregulate air services, and promote regional air markets open to transnational competition, “he said.
Sirika said SAATM, being a flagship project of the African Union Agenda 2063, would boost the continent`s economic integration agenda. According to him, SAATM would ensure aviation plays a major role in connecting Africa, promoting its social, economic and political integration and boosting intra-Africa trade and tourism as a result.

The Minister noted that SAATM was created to expedite the full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision.
“There are new developments that we derived from this, in particular, our resolve to implement Single Air Transport Market in Africa. This is in the spirit of actualising Agenda 2063, which will unify and integrate Africa and connect its people, future and posture. It will also open the borders to connect the whole world,” Sirika said.

Travel expert and the organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko, told THISDAY that SAATM would become successful if the big players in Africa decide to fully support it, noting that South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria control high passenger traffic and if they decide to fully embrace the agenda, it would succeed, warning that it would fail if the implementation is dependent on having majority of the countries in the continent embracing it.

He expressed surprise that besides government’s push, Nigerian airlines are lukewarm towards the agenda and noted that Nigeria would be left behind because it cannot hold Africa down, even if it wants to and referred to the initial unwillingness of Nigeria to join the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), recalling that by the time Nigeria got around to accepting the agreement, the headquarters of AfCFTA had gone to Ghana, so the country with the largest population in the continent lost the huge opportunity.

“SAATM will succeed with the coalition of the willing 15 countries that agree to fully embrace the system. If Nigerian airlines to embrace SAATM they would not be able to hold other countries down. They have to deploy the airplanes and join the market. We will not succeed in opposing the open sky. We will just be left behind,” he said.

On his part, the Managing Director of Flight and Logistics Solutions Limited, Amos Akpan, explained that the concept of African single sky would encourage movement amongst Africans.

“It will facilitate movement of goods and services amongst entrepreneurs within Africa. It will enhance interactions, exchange of ideas, cultural mix and blends. Somebody should be able to order for a product and receive it within Africa in two to six hours. It will make it easier for the African developing countries to assist their underdeveloped counterparts.

African aviation will have a platform to grow from her base – Africa,” Akpan said.

Akpan said there was need to muster willpower by holders of political power and the managers of bureaucratic institutions in African countries to let go of protectionist agenda in exchange for a common African agenda.

“Besides the problem of independent countries, there are already existing regional blocs each with a ‘super nation’ controlling affairs in that bloc/region. The regional blocs include: South Africa for South, Kenya/Ethiopia for East, Nigeria for West, Egypt for North, and Rwanda for Central. Each bloc already has its single/open sky protocols in place. How do they transit from regional to continental free/open sky? Infrastructures and pace of development differs from country/region.

“Yes; it is possible. It will start with a lot of hiccups but it can be achieved. The African have had to travel to other continents to transit or connect to another African country, which was his destination. This single/ open sky will be a welcomed relief. It will enhance development and growth of ACFTA,” Akpan said.

Industry expert and Secretary General of Aviation Round Table (ART), Group Captain John Ojikutu, said it is desirable for most African countries to agree to open sky, especially when most of them do not have national or flag carriers.

“Quietly, countries without national or flag carriers would be making monies in forex on landing and parking, air traffic services and navigational charges, five per cent TSC/CSC, PSC (Ticket sales charge, cargo sales charge and passenger sales charge) etc depending on the number of international air and passengers traffic they can generate annually,” Ojikutu said.

However, a retired administrator in the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) told THISDAY that he does believe that African leaders have the mental and moral capacity to successfully implement such a project, which would benefit all Africans.

“They plan will be compromised by foreign airlines and their governments to delay or sabotage it. I don’t trust them. They are wicked who blindly inflict hardships on their people while they escape through stealing our common patrimony to live fake lives,” Ojikutu further said.

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