7 July 2019

African Single Air Travel Market Slow in Taking Off

Countries that have signed up to the Single African Air Transport Market so far plan to begin implementing it as soon as the heads of state endorse the dispute settlement mechanism, which is expected to happen at the AU Extraordinary Summit in Niger this week.

By mid-June, 28 of the 55 member states of the African Union had signed up to the pact, which aims to open up intra-African air transport, long stymied by protectionist policies. Of those, 18 countries have signed the implementation MoU. But progress has been hampered by delays in setting up a regulatory framework. Some of the member states that have refused to sign up to SAATM, such as Uganda, say it would simply create a few dominant carriers and undermine competition.

In East Africa, only Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda have signed up.

A draft of the Dispute Settlement Mechanism -- a key element of the regulatory framework -- is ready and awaits signing by the parties at the end of July.

According to Raphael Kuuchi, International Air Transport Association African Envoy for Aeropolitical Affairs, there are two camps among the states that have signed up.

"There are those member states and airlines that are ready to implement the initiative on the fly. But, there are also those that are hesitant and ask what would happen in event of a dispute before a settlement mechanism is in place," said Mr Kuuchi.

Experts believe that the SAATM, the AfCFTA as well as the single Africa passport or visa-free intra-Africa travel initiatives need to move in tandem before their full potential can be realised.

According to the IATA, the SAATM would provide the connectivity that Africa needs to unlock its economies. Immediate benefits would accrue from the economic efficiencies that come from a reduction in the time and cost it takes to travel from one part of the continent to another.

IATA believes that SAATM is ready for take-off because the 28 countries that have so far signed up account for 80 per cent of air traffic on the continent.

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