A number of initiatives are planned in 2023 to further African air transport liberalisation, which is now being spearheaded by dynamic former IATA executive Adefunke Adeyemi.
“This is my first inter-governmental role,” Adeyemi said while speaking at an African Airlines Association (AFRAA) webinar. “It’s really been a great eye-opener.”
The African Union (AU), comprising 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. 2002. However, two decades later, only 35 countries re-committed to YD under the 2018 AU Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative, and even fewer countries have begun implementation.
In September 2022, Adeyemi became Secretary-General of the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), the AU body responsible for overseeing the liberalization project. She joins after 24 years in the private sector, including 13 years with IATA.
Adeyemi plans to break down the SAATM “elephant” into more manageable chunks made up of specific tasks and goals. This includes new ways of grouping countries together, 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 make all 54 liberal [African] country by air, at the same time, at the same speed, in the same way? No,” he said. Adeyemi is taking a more “piecemeal” approach, depending on each country’s readiness to move forward. In November 2022, he called on the SAATM, receiving new commitments from 18 African states to implement liberalization Launched Pilot Implementation Project (PIP).The number has increased 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 Dialogue in Abuja. “Guess what? We had good success. Sixteen states negotiated new or updated air services agreements,” Adeyemi said.
Today, only 30-35% of African cities are connected by air and only 15% of flights exercise fifth-freedom rights. One of Adeyemi’s main objectives is to increase fifth-freedom flight 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.
“Is YD implemented at all? Yeah it is. The issue is that it hasn’t really been implemented as deeply as it should have been to promote those connections.” “While states can sign agreements, we need airlines to operate the routes. We need to develop those routes.”
On February 9-10, AFCAC will hold its next annual Joint Priority Action Plan (JPAP) meeting to assess progress towards YD/SAATM implementation. This will be followed by the AU’s state summits, where AFCAC is hoping to arrange a side-meeting with the presidents of the 19 SAATM PIP states. The five-year post-SAATM report will also be released in October 2023, and a series of ministerial meetings and workshops are also planned to address implementation bottlenecks.
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 denied flying rights.
“It is going to be a very busy year for us,” Adeyemi said. “We’re doing a lot of work to incorporate business imperatives into our initiatives.”