Earlier this year the African Union officially launched the long-awaited Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) as a means of de-regulating the African skies. The implications are enormous and the market will significantly boost infra-African trade and regional integration on the continent. Tom Collines reports from Addis Ababa.
On 29 January, amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Addis Ababa, the new AU chairperson, Paul Kagame, AU Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, and Togo's President Faure Gnassingbe got together to cut the ribbon launching the Single African Air Transport Market.
Although made operational by the mere snip of ceremonial scissors, the market itself has been in the works in Africa for quite some time, and the nuts and bolts of the agreement were fleshed out in an office-block towering above the rest of the African Union's impressive dome-shaped building.
Inside a small office, David Kajange, AU Head of Transport and Tourism and Iyabo Sosina, Secretary General of the African Civil Aviation Commission, two key figures in the market's creation, explained exactly how the market operates, what it provides and how it can benefit the continent.
"At the moment there are many markets, all of which are highly regulated," says Kajange. "There are a lot of restrictions between flights from one country to another."
Indeed, until now the African skies have been portioned off into highly protected national airspaces as governments have sought to create favourable conditions for their national carriers. Yet heavy protectionism has led to market impotence and a key tenet of the continent's development--the effective movement of goods and people--has ultimately suffered.
Certainly the issues for all those regularly travelling the African continent are all too familiar. Flights between two African countries often require a lengthy stopover in one of Africa's few aviation hubs or even worse, a transit-trip to Europe or the Gulf.
Connections are poor and the continent's smaller carriers were unable to plug the gap, being woefully underserviced and frequently debt-ridden in market conditions.
As Kajange explains, opening up the market would increase Africa's connectivity. "Liberalisation of the market means that where countries are signed up to the single market, airlines can undertake flights between different states, carrying traffic from one country to another without any restrictions," he says.
This in turn would impact...