Despite the Open Skies’ policy otherwise known as the Single Africa Air Transport Market (SAATM), Nigerian carriers are at a very disadvantaged position, according to findings by New Telegraph.
SAATM is a project of the African Union to create a single market for air transport in Africa.
Once completely in force, the single market is supposed to allow significant freedom of air transport in Africa, advancing the AU’s Agenda 2063.
The inability of Nigerian carriers to compete coupled with fragmentation and weakness could throw the market open to predator airlines like Ethiopian Airline, which is a major beneficiary of the policy that tends to make air connectivity seamless within the African continent.
Other beneficiaries are nations with big and strong national carriers like South Africa Airways, Egypt Air, Air Maroc, Rwandair, Kenya Airways among others.
Nigeria for now does not have a national airline or viable flag carrier airlines to reciprocate or partake in the huge market that the policy would engender.
There have been reported cases of difficulty of travelling within the continent for obvious lack of flight connectivity.
For instance, Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo, is one of the biggest cities in Africa, with an estimated population larger than London and a skyline that peers over the wide, snaking Congo River.
But if a traveller wants to go from there to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital and Africa’s largest metropolis, it’s impossible to fly nonstop.
Roughly 1,100 miles separate the two megacities—about the same distance as New York to Minneapolis. But there are no direct flights. Instead, a traveller would need to change planes at least once and pay a minimum of $1,200. There’s a good chance the journey will take well more than 16 hours.
Across Africa, the situation is similar. Commercial flights are infrequent, expensive, and circuitous. To get from one country to another, an African traveller may have to go thousands of miles out of their way and transfer through the Middle East or Europe.
The continent is home to roughly 12 per cent of the world’s population and will be responsible for most of the global population growth over the next three decades. But it accounts for just one per cent of the world’s air travel market. The flights that do exist are often more expensive than routes of similar duration elsewhere in the world.
Chief Executive Officer of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi, described SAATM as a good policy, especially for countries with developed aviation sector and major carrier that can benefit from it.
His words: “The truth is that open skies will encourage trade. But it is just a step, we must look at free movement of people by removing visa restrictions and then we also have to protect our businesses in-house by making the airlines able to compete.”
New Telegraph learnt that with the inauguration of SAATM last year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, more airlines from African countries are expected to begin frequent flights into Nigeria in the coming months,
Already, Cape Verde, an island country spanning an archipelago of 10 volcanic islands in the central Atlantic Ocean with a population of 546,388, is the latest to designate Cabo Verde Airlines, which will begin flight services to Lagos December 9, 2019.
An airline operator, who pleaded anonymity, said with the new travel policy, the restrictions on frequency of flights, capacity, route and ports of entry, and the 5th Freedom Traffic Right had been lifted.
Under the frequency clause, airlines of member states will no longer be restricted as long as they have traffic on their chosen routes, while the restrictions on capacity, which placed emphasis on the type of aircraft that should be used on certain routes, have been lifted.
On route and ports of entry, member states airlines now have the freedom to fly into one another’s countries through any viable city.
The 5th freedom traffic, on the other hand, means that within Africa, member state airlines can fly into one another’s countries and proceed to another without much restriction. For instance, a Nigerian airline can fly from Lagos to Accra, Ghana and proceed to Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire if it finds traffic.