23 nations have signed the initiative
It's part of the Africa 2063 project to encourage integration
Back in 1999, under what is known as the Yamoussoukro Decision, African countries planned to free their skies for air travel.
Last Sunday the African Union (AU) took its first big step towards this goal, launching the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).
The landmark announcement unveiled by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, the new chair of the AU, aims to transform intra-African air travel, lower prices and increase connectivity.
The initiative has 23 signatories. There are 32 AU members still to come on board.
Take off for African aviation
Opening up the continent’s skies could be a huge coup for African airlines, which would work under a common regulatory framework.
It could also benefit intra-continental travelers who are often bound to illogical and time-consuming routes via Europe and the Middle East when flying between African countries.
The agreement will also hope to increase the continent’s global share of the aviation industry. The total population of Africa accounts for around 17% globally, but the continent’s proportion of air travel passengers varies between 2-4%.
In a statement, Rapahel Kuuchi, Vice President for Africa at the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said: “Greater connectivity will lead to greater prosperity.”
“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.”
The approach follows in the footsteps of similar single market aviation agreements such as the EU’s Internal Market for Aviation, which are generally recognized to have reduced costs and increased routes.
Chris Zweigenthal, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa, told CNN: “We see this as a renewed commitment from – at the moment – 23 states who committed themselves to a single aviation market.”
“The important thing now that there’s been the announcement is that there is an implementation phase and I think there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure full implementation.”
The launch of the SAATM is part of the AU’s Africa 2063 project to encourage pan-African integration.
The recent relaxing of visa restrictions for African citizens in a number of countries and the launch of an African Union passport in 2016 for heads of states and senior officials – with plans to distribute to all Africans by 2020 – show a growing commitment to intra-continent development.
All this amounts to much less time wasted for African citizens filling out bureaucratic visa forms or on bizarre travel routes, and greater freedom for airlines to set-up shop in neighboring countries.
The AU claims it is also on the cusp of agreeing a free trade deal, the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), for goods and services to be launched by the end of 2018.
While the European Union steps from crisis to crisis, the pursuit of Pan-Africanists towards a more integrated and united continent is slowly taking flight.