Nigeria has reviewed air transport agreement with 27 countries in accordance with the provisions of the Single African Air Transport Market of the African Union.
A total of 28 African countries have signed, with heavy commitment, the Single African Air Transport Market of the African Union, requiring a review of air transport agreement between them and the Federal Government.
28 out of the 55 countries that are in the AU had signed the treaty as of July 31, which requires state parties to liberalise scheduled and non-scheduled intra-Africa air transport services in line with the provisions of the Yamoussoukro Decision.
The 28 states are Benin, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Capo Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt and Ethiopia.
Other are Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Cameroon.
These countries, according to the International Air Transport Association, embody over 80 per cent of the existing aviation market in Africa.
By the new agreement, many more carriers within the continent are anticipated to begin flight services into Nigeria.
The Director of Air Transport Regulation of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Group Capt. Edem Oyo-Ita (retd), said the country had so much to benefit from SAATM than any other country on the continent.
According to him, the liberalisation of air transport is an opportunity for domestic airlines as well as the industry to grow.
“Bilateral Air Services Agreement has been streamlined in line with the SAATM. We should expect more countries to fly into Nigeria as well as Nigerian airlines flying into their countries,” he said.
The SAATM is a flagship project of the African Union Agenda 2063, an initiative to create a single unified and liberalised air transport market on the continent.
It was adopted by the AU Assembly in 2015 as a way of implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision of 1999 that provides for full liberalisation in terms of market access among African states; the free exercise of traffic rights; the elimination of restrictions on ownership and the full liberalisation of frequencies, fares and capacities.
Inaugurated in January 2018, Nigeria was among the champion states that declared their solemn commitment to establish SAATM upon the adoption of the declaration by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU.
Countries which have signed SAATM are technically required to lift all restrictions and non-tariff barriers from bilateral air services agreements and other regulatory bodies.
Among many other provisions, SAATM prohibits limitations on the number of frequencies and capacity offered on-air services linking any city pair combination between state parties concerned while each designated airline is allowed to mount and operate capacity and frequency as it deems appropriate.
It also mandates that no member state should unilaterally limit the volume of traffic, the type of aircraft to be operated or the number of flights per week except for environmental, safety, technical or other special consideration.
A former Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, recently said that the full implementation and operationalisation of SAATM would help Nigeria and other African countries to leap forward to become effective global competitors in aviation.
An analyst and Managing Partner, Aglow Aviation Support Services Limited, Mr Tayo Ojuri said the failure to implement SAATM open skies remained a major factor in the continent’s aviation sector continues to underperform on the global stage.
“SAATM’s backers like IATA contend that by enabling carriers to fly direct between two regional cities without flying via their home hub will drive growth for the continent while boosting economic integration and intraregional connectivity,” he said.
He added that IATA research on African air liberalisation had shown that if just 12 key African countries opened their markets and increased connectivity, it could create extra 155,000 jobs and generate an additional $1.3bn in annual Gross Domestic Product in those countries.
Ojuri stated that apart from airlines, the open skies policy would also provide opportunities for other service providers within Nigeria’s aviation ecosystem such as ground handlers, inflight service providers, fuel marketers and airport operators.
However, domestic operators are not favourably disposed to the idea as, according to them, they will not benefit from SAATM.
The operators said unresolved issues in the industry would overshadow the gains of the open skies policy.
These problems, they said, included multiple taxations and visa restrictions where Nigerians were still required to have over 34 visas to travel within Africa alone.
The Chairman, Airline Operators of Nigeria, Capt. Nogie Meggison had noted that domestic airlines were at a disadvantage to other African airlines largely government-owned and heavily subsidised.
He explained that South African Airways got on the average about $350m yearly in the past decade and Kenya Airways got about $600m in 2016; yet, they would be competing with Nigerian airlines with private finance at 28 per cent interest rate.
According to him, Nigeria is the only country in Africa with eight entry points while most of the other African countries have only one entry point.
“Nigeria is simply not ready to handle the level of unfair competition that the full implementation of SAATM will bring upon the country,” he added.
The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Mr Allen Onyema, described SAATM as fraud against Nigeria, adding that it would not create a level-playing field for everyone.
“The idea behind SAATM is noble. However, in a practical sense, it is a fraud against this country. Nigeria has the population and the majority of the Nigerian population is mobile. So, these countries are just making a feast out of Nigeria while at the same time making it difficult for Nigerian airlines to go into their countries,” he said.
For Ojuri, the Federal Government needs to engage all stakeholders to identify their concerns and address them.
He said there should be a gradual process after the government and legislature had taken time to develop a robust and well-established regulatory framework, which should have clear objectives, fair competition provisions and taxation policies for all countries.
To address the negative effects, according to him, it is expedient for the government through its regulatory agencies such as the NCAA, Consumer Protection Council and other related Ministries, Departments and Agencies to ensure that the implementation of SAATM is done in a responsible and sustainable manner that clearly benefits all African countries.

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