In 2015, 23 African countries, including Nigeria, adopted the Declaration on the establishment of a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) to fully implement the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD). The YD is a multilateral agreement between 54 countries in Africa reached in 1999 furthering the concept of air transport liberalisation in Africa under the Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1988. The YD sought to build on the idea of the Yamoussoukro Declaration and focus on how the African air transport market could be fully integrated.
However, the YD was not fully implemented by its signatories. Therefore, in January 2018, the African Union (AU) heads of state and government, with a stronger and more ambitious will to implement the continent’s socioeconomic development and integration agenda, named the SAATM as one of the flagship projects of the AU’s Agenda 2063. This led to the formal launch of the SAATM, an ‘Open Skies Treaty’. The SAATM initiative is geared at creating a single unified air transport market in Africa through the liberalisation of civil aviation.
The SAATM specifically seeks to achieve the full liberalisation of intra-African air transport services in terms of market access; free exercise of first to fifth freedom traffic rights for scheduled and freight air services by eligible airlines; full liberalisation of frequencies, tariffs and capacity; safety and security standards for African carriers; eligibility criteria for African carriers; and mechanisms for fair competition, dispute settlement and consumer protection.
The benefits of the SAATM to Nigeria and Africa as a continent will be unrivalled, as it will open and connect markets, facilitating trade and enabling African organisations to link into global supply chains. The SAATM if implemented will enhance air connectivity, raise productivity by encouraging investment and innovation, improve business operations and efficiency, access to cross-border investments and mergers and promote greater cooperation between African airlines. It will also increase job creation, growth in trade resulting in growth in GDP and lower travel costs resulting in high numbers of passengers. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently reported on the benefits if only 12 countries including Nigeria implement the SAATM. According to the IATA, air connectivity across these 12 countries would provide an increase in trade by US$430 million, an additional 155,000 jobs, US$1.3 billion in annual GDP, 35% reduction in ticket prices and a potential five million passengers a year would be able to travel because of lower fares.
There is currently a movement to implement SAATM by member states by the harmonisation of all bilateral air services agreements to ensure full compliance with the YD. The effectiveness of the SAATM will be based primarily on the conclusion of the required multilateral agreements between member states. However, of utmost importance is
that these agreements put in place mechanisms that ensure fair playing ground to all signatory countries. These mechanisms must look strictly to issues such as competition, ownership and control, consumer rights, taxes and commercial viability.