Airline Operators Kick As FG Implements Intra-African Open Skies

                          
The Federal Government has confirmed its full implementation of the controversial Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) but airline operators are kicking against the approval.

A letter by the Director-General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), dated May 10, 2019, sent to other African countries through the African Union (AU), and obtained by Daily Independent, stated that the Federal Government was ready to fully implement the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) on establishing the SAATM.

The government said that its airspace was also liberalised to allow all African airlines unhindered access to the country’s airspace and airports.

The Yamoussoukro Decision was a treaty that allowed for open skies among most African countries. The decision was endorsed by 44 members of the AU in 1999 and became binding in 2002. The treaty grants fifth freedom transit rights among all of its signatories.

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SAATM is a project of the AU 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. SAATM was launched in January 28, 2018.

At present, 23 out of 54 African countries, including Nigeria, have signed the treaty.

Part of the letter reads: “Pursuant to the implementation of the declaration on the creation of a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) in January, 2018 and the solemn commitment of the African Union (AU) member states with respect to the full implementation of the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) on establishing the SAATM, the Federal Government of Nigeria wishes to state that it is fully committed to the immediate implementation of the YD under the terms of the declaration of the solemn commitment in line with the AU Agenda 2063.

“In this regard, the government of Nigeria wishes to notify other state parties, especially states that are signatories to the Declaration of Solemn Commitment that its sky is liberalised in accordance with the YD.”

But Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has kicked against the government’s decision to commence the full implementation of the treaty.

Capt. Nogie Meggison, Chairman, AON, in a recent interview with journalists in Lagos, said the country’s airlines were opposed to the decision to implement SAATM up till date, the government was yet to carry along the airlines.

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He said the government went ahead to sign the declaration’s implementation without putting in place facilities to aid domestic airlines to compete.

Meggison insisted that the country was not ready for the intra-African open skies, stressing that the playing field was not level and was skewed against Nigerian carriers with regards to how their neighbours tax and charge them.

Also, Allen Onyema, Chairman, Air Peace, made reference to what he described as “unfair competition” recently.

Onyema said such practice was illegal and called on the Federal Government to watch out for this, pointing out that this was the main reason the local airlines were opposed to SAATM ab initio.

He threatened to sue some airlines that flew into Nigeria but created bottlenecks for Nigerian airlines wishing to travel to their countries.

“What happens is a situation whereby they come into Nigeria, we welcome them with red carpet but to go to their own countries, we find it difficult,” Onyema said.

But Richard Aisuebeogun, the former Managing Director, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), backed the government’s position on SAATM.

He noted that this would help to stimulate air transport growth in Nigeria, in particular, and Africa as a whole.

Aisuebeogun said travel between African countries over the years had proved to be a major challenge for air travellers on the continent.

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He noted that most time air travellers who wanted to travel to an African country needed to travel to one European city before taking a connecting flight to their final destination on the continent.

He said: “Until 2017, many of us travelling by air within Africa have probably had bad or sour experiences flying within one African country to another, especially within the sub-region to another, and even flying from Africa to connecting the rest of the world.

“Some 10 years ago, my team and I needed to attend an airport conference in Bamako, Mali, but sadly to get to Bamako, we had to fly out of Africa to Paris, France to connect Air France back to Bamako in Africa.

“When we were done we thought on how to connect Bamako back to Lagos; of course, there was no connection, so all we could do was to fly back to Paris and then to Lagos.

“That wasn’t a pleasant passenger experience for us because ordinarily, the flight from Bamako to Lagos could have taken us less than four hours or thereabouts, but it took close to 24 hours to get to our destination.”

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