A total of 16 African states have signed a memorandum of implementation (MOI) that formally opens their markets, simplifying intra-African air-transport liberalization and giving the project new momentum.

Once a state signs the MOI, it is uploaded to the African Civil Aviation Commission (‏AFCAC) website, notifying other states their market is open and they have removed all restrictive provisions from bilateral agreements.

Dakar-based AFCAC is the body responsible for implementing intra-African Open Skies. New AFCAC secretary general Tefera Mekonnen, who took up his role Jan. 8, is hoping the MOI will make it easier for states to come on board.

Previously, states have had to go through the so-called “seven concrete steps” to implement liberalization. “For us, it is not relevant [for them] to complete everyone,” Mekonnen said, speaking to ATW at the Aviation Africa Summit in Kigali recently.

Mekonnen added that the seven steps—which were developed during the launch phase—have become cumbersome and need to be refined. The MOI has become the eighth step, effectively replacing the previous seven. “I am not interested in numbers; I am interested in implementation,” he said.

African air transport liberalization is based on the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision (YD), which was signed by 44 African Union countries in 1999 and became legally binding in 2002. However, many of the original signatories have since failed to open up their markets. This led to a new push to implement YD, known as the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), which launched in January 2018.

To date, 28 countries have signed up to SAATM and 16 of these have signed the MOI, committing to unconditional and immediate implementation of all the provisions of the YD.

Mekonnen said YD implementation may be further along than people think. In late February, he met with air-transport chiefs from the 28 SAATM states. “Most of them, may be 22 of them, have implemented the concrete measures, but they haven’t reported it,” Mekonnen said. “I haven’t received any complaints from airlines, so it means that states are implementing [YD],” he said.

There are four big meetings ahead that are expected to yield further progress. The 28 SAATM transport ministers will give status updates March 29, in Cape Verde.  This will be followed by a wider meeting, held during the second week of April in Cairo, which will be attended by transport ministers from all 55 African Union member states.

In July, Mekonnen will present a status report to the African Union (AU) executive committee, made up of foreign-affairs ministers. The president of Togo—who is championing SAATM—will then present these findings to the AU heads of state summit.

“More countries will join very soon,” Togo transport minister Zoureutou Tchakonda Kassa-Traore said, also speaking at Aviation Africa Summit. The target is to have 40 SAATM members by 2020.

Most of the legal framework for SAATM is now in place, including rules for consumer protection and fair competition. The AU and AFCAC are looking at using the dispute-settlement mechanisms, which were adopted for the Common Africa Free Trade Area, for SAATM. In the meantime, airlines can use the dispute-settlement provisions of YD, or rules within existing bilateral air-service agreements, Mekonnen said.

AFCAC will now finalize its action plan, releasing a quarterly progress update. This strategy includes synchronizing AFCAC’s work with other stakeholders, such as IATA, ahead of a push for greater awareness and implementation from the second quarter of 2019. Part of the awareness plan will include working with finance and infrastructure ministers to get them involved, as well as a new study on the socio-economic benefits of SAATM, which is expected to be completed in 2019.

This work will be supported by $4.7 million in funding from the African Development Bank. AFCAC will use this money to promote SAATM and add three more experts to its two-person SAATM team, with recruitment starting immediately.

Victoria Moores victoria.moores@informa.com