TRAVEL and tourism expo, WTM Africa, hosted a meeting of experts earlier this month to discuss the challenges hindering the realisation of Open Skies in Africa. The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), a flagship project of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, initiated the panel discussion. Experts pointed out that visa restrictions, exorbitant costs, and protectionism are some of the major roadblocks preventing airlines from achieving the required load factors to make their routes financially viable.
Rui Carreira, non-executive board member of Taag Angola Airlines, explained that the African Civil Aviation Commission (Afcac) lacks the power to enforce regulations, posing a challenge to the implementation of SAATM. Afcac can only rely on voluntary compliance by airlines and national authorities, which leads to uneven implementation of SAATM across different countries. This creates an uneven playing field for airlines and limited investor confidence.
‘The benefits of SAATM are undeniable,’ said Carreira. He explained that Taag was forced to close some African routes because load factors were simply too low to justify weekly flights. ‘It is imperative that Africa follows the example of the EU. The EU started as an economic community of just six countries, and gradually expanded over time to include more member states. The region also developed a common market and customs union, which have helped to eliminate trade barriers and promote economic growth within the region.’
David King, project manager of Cape Town Air Access, pointed out that visa accessibility is another massive challenge preventing airlines from attracting passengers. Although visa controls are necessary, the process should be easy and seamless. The lack of visa accessibility is currently hindering the development of SAATM.
Experts agreed that the benefits of open skies are immense. Afzal Parambil, regional manager Southern Africa at Emirates, explained that the SAATM would help all airlines, not just African carriers. The opening up of borders would help connect passengers to secondary and tertiary destinations in Africa, which is currently a significant challenge. Adebayo Adedeji, chief executive officer of Wakanow.com, stated that commerce should be a driver in the aviation strategy. The benefits of opening up countries commercially are evident, as airlines need at least an 80 percent load factor to continue operations.
To enable airlines to explore new markets and grow the economy, it is crucial to remove obstacles and achieve open skies in Africa. Building economic partnerships and regional integration at a smaller scale before scaling up, developing institutions to promote intra-regional trade and economic co-operation, and opening up borders are essential steps towards achieving this goal. The aviation industry is an essential player in driving economic growth and job creation in Africa, and it is vital to enable airlines to connect African countries and passengers to their destinations and grow Africa into a global and powerful aviation hub.
‘For every 100 tourists arriving on a plane in Cape Town, one job is created,’ King said. ‘Every flight that enters your airport is valuable and grows the economy. It is vital to remove obstacles and achieve open skies to enable airlines to connect African countries and passengers to their destinations and grow Africa into a global and powerful aviation hub,’ he added.