Free skies for Africa means growth for African economies

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Ahmed Shide Minister of Transport

The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) is set to be launched by the African Union today, January 28, 2018. The initiative is expected to spur more opportunities to promote trade.
The launch of SAATM, which is scheduled on Jan. 28, is expected to spur more opportunities to promote trade, and cross-border investments in the production and service industries including tourism, resulting in the creation of an additional 300,000 direct and two million indirect jobs.
According to Ahmed Shide, Minister of Transport, Ethiopia has always been one of the pioneers in promoting the free skies in Africa and it is also one of the 11 champion countries that declared their commitment to establishing a single African air transport market. Ethiopian Airlines has been lobbying for free skies for many years.
“The realization of SAATM is vital to the achievement of the long term vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, which is AU’s Agenda 2063,” the minister said.
During a press conference held at Ethiopian Airline’s office on Tuesday, January 22, 2018, it was stated that the realization of SAATM would be attained through the immediate implementation of the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision, which is the full liberalization of intra-African air transport services in terms of access, capacity and frequency.
According to the World Bank (WB), Africa is home to 12 percent of the world’s people, but it accounts for less than one percent of the global air service market.
Part of the reason for Africa’s under-served status, according to a study done by the WB, Open Skies for Africa – Implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision, is that many African countries restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers.
This practice originated in the early 1960s when many newly-independent African states created national airlines, in part, to assert their status as nations. Now, however, most have recognized that the strict regulatory protection that sustains such carriers, has detrimental effects of air safety records, while also inflating air fares and dampening air traffic growth.
Tewolde Gebremariam, CEO of Ethiopian Airlines Group stated during the press conference that the initiative is a huge milestone for the continent. “African countries need to integrate trade and invest cross border investments among each other,” he stated. He underlined that air connectivity is the economic driver that would help the expansion of tourism, trade and other important sectors on the continent.
Currently, 23 African countries out of 55 have subscribed to the Single African Air Transport Market, whereas 44 African countries have signed the Yamoussoukro Decision in 1988.