Africa To Take Bite-Sized Approach To Liberalization

Ethiopian Airlines
Credit: David Silverman / Getty Images

Several initiatives are planned in 2023 to push forward African air transport liberalization, which is now being overseen by dynamic former IATA executive Adefunke Adeyemi.

“This is my first inter-governmental role,” Adeyemi said, speaking on an African Airlines Association (AFRAA) webinar. “It really has been a great eye-opener.”

The African Union (AU), which comprises 55 African member states, has been seeking to create a pan-African domestic air transport market since 1988. The Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) paved the way for this change and became legally binding for 44 states in 2002. However, two decades on, only 35 countries recommitted to YD under the 2018 AU Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative, and even fewer have begun implementation.

In September 2022, Adeyemi became secretary general of the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), which is the AU body responsible for overseeing the liberalization project. She joined after 24 years in the private sector, including 13 years with IATA.

Adeyemi is planning to break the SAATM “elephant” down into more manageable chunks, made up of specific actions and targets. This includes grouping together countries in new ways, such as those with shared languages, whose trade would benefit most from new air links. 

For example, Angola, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea and Mozambique are all Portuguese-speaking and tourism is a major source of income, but Adeyemi is not aware of any existing air links between them. AFCAC hopes to facilitate discussions between their governments, airlines, trade-development and tourism bodies, with business in mind.

“Can we liberalize all 54 [African] countries by air, at the same time, at the same pace, in the same way? No,” she said. Adeyemi is taking a more “piecemeal” approach, based on each country’s readiness to move forward. In November 2022, she launched the SAATM pilot implementation project (PIP), gaining fresh commitment to implement liberalization from 18 African states. This number has since risen to 19. 

AFCAC has also developed a YD-compliant air services agreement template, which was presented to delegates during the December 2022 ICAO ICAN African air services negotiations in Abuja. “Guess what happened? We had a good success. Sixteen states negotiated new or updated air service agreements,” Adeyemi said.

Today, only 30-35% of African cities are connected by air and only 15% of flights use fifth-freedom rights. One of Adeyemi’s main aims is to increase fifth-freedom flying from 15% to 30% by 2025. She is also hoping to encourage more interlining between African carriers, which could lead to more efficient use of capacity.

“Has YD been implemented at all? Yes, it has. The issue is that it has not been implemented as deeply as it should be to really foster those connections,” Adeyemi said. “While the states may sign the agreements, we need the airlines to operate the routes. We need those routes to be developed.”

On Feb. 9-10, AFCAC will hold its next annual Joint Prioritized Action Plan (JPAP) meeting to assess progress toward YD/SAATM implementation. This will be followed by the AU heads of state summit, where AFCAC is hoping to arrange a side-meeting with the presidents of the 19 SAATM PIP states. A five-year post-SAATM report will be also released in October 2023, and a series of ministerial meetings and workshops is also planned, to address barriers to implementation.

At the administrative level, a YD compliance dispute-resolution mechanism was adopted in 2022 and will be activated in 2023, giving airlines a right of recourse if they are refused flying rights.

“It’s going to be quite a hectic year for us,” Adeyemi said. “We’re doing a lot of work to incorporate the business imperatives into our initiatives.”

Victoria Moores

Victoria Moores joined Air Transport World as our London-based European Editor/Bureau Chief on 18 June 2012. Victoria has nearly 20 years’ aviation industry experience, spanning airline ground operations, analytical, journalism and communications roles.