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Cheaper flights across Africa on the horizon as 23 nations sign open skies pact

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Image courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines

Image courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines

The African Union has launched an ambitious open skies initiative that seeks to profoundly improve civil aviation across the continent.

The Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) seeks to liberalize air transport and reduce non-physical barriers to the movement of goods, people and services across the continent.

For countries that have assented to the pact, SAATM grants easy access to new markets across Africa, which would otherwise require separate bilateral agreements for each new market an airline tries to get into.

“23 member states have pledged their solemn commitment to the Single Air Market, the implementation of which will increase the number of routes, reduce the cost of air travel and contribute to the expansion of intra-African trade and tourism,” said Moussa Faki Mahamat, the AU Chairperson.

The 23 countries that have so far signed up are: Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

32 other AU members are yet to sign up, with some expressing fears that the expected competition would stifle the growth of their own airlines. These fears have similarly been expressed by airline operators in countries that have signed up for SAATM.

Fully implemented, it is hoped that SAATM will dramatically slash fares, create 300,000 direct jobs and 2 million indirect jobs, and increase traffic across Africa by 20% and concomitantly raise Africa’s global share of air travel from 2.3% to 4% by 2022.

The open skies initiative, together with similar projects such as the AU passport, which hopes to facilitate visa-free travel across Africa by 2020, and the Continental Free Trade Area, are all geared towards increasing intra-African trade.

The latest estimates of intra-African trade show that it’s about 16% (as of 2014); within the European Union, internal trade stood at 63.7% (as of 2010).