On his second day in office as the new African Union Chairperson, President Paul Kagame, alongside his Togolese counterpart Faure Gnassingbé and AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki, launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative during the last day of the 30th AU Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, yesterday.
The effort seeks to connect African countries and streamline transportation and trade on the continent.
President Gnassingbé was appointed to champion the initiative.
Monday’s launch follows about three years of efforts following its adoption at a previous AU summit.
With 23 member states at the moment, the initiative is likely to have more countries come on board in the coming days.
The initiative is aimed at creating a single unified air transport market in Africa and the liberalisation of civil aviation in Africa.
This could reduce scenarios where travelers have often been forced to spend long hours or days in transit due to infrequent commercial flights between African countries.
It’s common to come across cases where African travelers from East Africa had to travel to connect to West Africa through Europe and Asia due to lack of interregional connecting flights.
The model is similar to that of developed markets such as Europe, where airlines from participating countries can fly to airports of fellow member states.
Rwanda is part of the Ministerial Working Bureau as the Rapporteur.
The government is upbeat about the development as it is likely to see RwandAir access more countries and markets across the continent.
State minister for Transport Jado Uwihanganye said that the implementation of the initiative by countries across the continent will see an increase in flights across the continent as well as increased economic impact from the aviation sector.
Among the expected impacts he cited the removal of restrictions that hamper air service agreements between states.
“As Rwanda we expect quick approval for RwandAir requests to new destinations. We also expect flexibility in traffic arrangements such as picking passengers from one airport to another,” he said.
These adjustments will ultimately increase the number of passengers on the national carrier as well as airlines that land at the Kigali International Airport.
“That shall ultimately increase the number of passengers RwandAir carries. It will also obviously increase the number of airlines operating at Kigali International Airport, thus increasing the number of passengers we receive which has an impact on other sectors, such as tourism and job creation,” the state minister added.
In a series of posts on Twitter, RwandAir Chief Executive Chance Ndagano noted that the initiative will also benefit passengers, including through reduced fares with greater connectivity as well as time saving.
He noted that it will also improve travelers’ convenience and give them a choice from options on their travel itinerary.
To countries, he noted that it will impact tourism, trade, investment, employment and increased aviation activity.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects the development to boost traffic, revenues and jobs by African airlines.
Speaking to the media in Addis Ababa, Raphael Kuuchi, vice president for Africa of IATA, said that a survey conducted showed significant impacts on economies.
“Every open air service arrangement has boosted traffic, lifted economies and created jobs. And we expect no less in Africa on the back of the SAATM agreement.
“An IATA survey suggest that if just 12 key African countries opened their markets and increased connectivity an extra 155,000 jobs and US$1.3 billion in annual GDP would be created in those countries,” Kuuchi said.
The initiative comes at a time when African airlines were making significant losses largely due to restrictive airspace regulations.
Airlines in Africa reported a loss of about $800 million in 2016 largely due to regulation of African airspace.
However, there is still need for political will among states in the operationalisation of the initiative.
For instance, in the East African region, only Rwanda and Kenya have signed up for the initiative indicating the need for increased political will to operationalise it.