If the process of creating open skies for aviation in Africa is delayed because individual countries just sit and wait for each other to start implementing the process first, then aviation on the continent will be at risk of falling behind.
This was the message from Raphael Kuuchi, special envoy on aero-political affairs at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), to delegates at the 4th AviaDev aviation development conference in Cape Town on Thursday.
"For instance, at IATA we still believe something can be done to bring air transport in South Africa up to a higher level. We think the industry is still punching below its weight," he said.
In order to try and understand why the air transport industry in SA is not unlocking more if its potential, IATA is planning to do a perception analysis study to try and find where the gap lies.
"We want to see how we can unlock Africa's air connectivity so that the continent can realise the benefits it will bring," he said.
He pointed out that the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is an initiative by the African Union. It aims to create a single unified air transport market for African airlines, to advance the liberalisation of civil aviation on the continent. The expectation is that this initiative will form an impetus for economic integration on the continent by, among other things, boosting intra-Africa trade.
"In this way, African airlines will have a bigger 'local market' that can keep them on a similar competitive advantage compared to European airlines, for instance, which operate in a single European market," explained Kuuchi.
He pointed out that only 10% of the population in Africa use air transport.
"What happens to the 90%? They cannot travel by air due to the high cost of air travel and limited access to air connectivity in Africa," said Kuuchi.
SAATM was launched in 2018 and so far 28 countries have signed commitment to it. Of these, 14 countries have actually signed a Memorandum of Implementation, undertaking to unlock their aviation market.
- According to Kuuchi, over the past 18 months the regulatory text necessary to adopt such a single African air transport market has been compiled. The only key document still outstanding is the one relating to dispute settlement, which will likely be ready for the next meeting of African heads of state in July.
"What the aviation industry and travelling public in Africa are eagerly waiting for, is to go beyond just talk and good documentation and to actually actualise the SAATM," said Kuuchi.
"This will allow airlines across Africa to access markets on the continent and would create enough opportunities for our citizens."
He emphasised that immediate measures needed to actualise the SAATM, should involve including regulations about it in domestic aviation regulations; to inform stakeholders about the regulations; and to set up clear criteria on how airlines can access the local markets.
"We are also working on coming up with an economic impact study covering all 55 countries in Africa to clearly indicate the economic benefits of air transport to each country and to highlight the potential currently being subdued by not opening the aviation market," concluded Kuuchi.
"Let us engage governments and make them understand that aviation is beneficial for people and create jobs and economic growth."