Almost three decades after it was first proposed, African countries have finally taken a major step towards opening the continent’s skies.
Yesterday (Jan. 28), 23 African countries launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative by the African Union (AU). The initiative is largely based on the agreements of the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999 (pdf).
An immediate benefit of the single air market will be enhanced connectivity between African nations and a reduction in flight ticket prices. Consequently, this is expected to result in more regular direct flights between African countries rather than trips which previously involved stopovers in the Middle East or Europe. The bigger picture however, is littered with the promise of job creation, improved intra-African trade and freer movement of people. As shown by a 2014 study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), liberalizing routes for 12 key African countries will boost economies on the continent with more than 150,000 additional jobs and an extra $1.3 billion to the continent’s annual GDP.
The launch of the single air market follows closely on moves by several African countries to relax visa rules for African nationals. In addition, liberalized airline routes on the continent will likely result in a boost to the long-touted potential of intra-African tourism. Last year, a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report showed that between 1995 and 2014, while the total number of international tourist arrivals to Africa more than doubled, Africans accounted for only four in every 10 visitors. Making it easier for Africans to visit African countries without the hassle of long, paperwork-laden visa applications or expensive, long-winding air travel will inadvertently boost the Africa’s tourism revenues even further.
But while launching the single air market with 23 countries is “an important step forward,” Rapahel Kuuchi, IATA’s vice president for Africa says its benefits will not be fully realized unless there is “effective implementation” of the countries signed up and also increased adoption by the 32 countries yet to join.
So far, 23 countries have signed up to the agreement.