Seychelles is still evaluating whether or not to sign an agreement to be part of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), an initiative of the African Union (AU), said a top government official on Tuesday.
The Single African Air Transport Market seeks to promote connectivity, boost intra-African trade and tourism, and enhance economic integration among African countries.
“One of the reservations we have is that we are protecting our aviation industry, including Air Seychelles. We want to ensure that when we do sign this agreement, we will protect Air Seychelles, and at the same time we will do all that is necessary to expand as a regional airline,” said the Minister for Transport, Anthony Derjacques, at the opening of a two-day workshop.
The workshop taking place in Seychelles is being organised by the Department of Civil Aviation, Ports and Marine in collaboration with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
More than 30 African nations have formally endorsed the SAATM as the knowledge cut-off in September 2021, while the full implementation and realisation of its advantages are continuing activities.
The African Union’s Agenda 2063, which envisions a wealthy and interconnected Africa, includes SAATM, which was introduced in January 2018.
The aim of SAATM is to remove obstacles to flying, like high taxes, regulatory constraints, and restricted market access by encouraging more airlines to fly to and from Africa. This will in return increase flight frequency, bringing down ticket prices, and enhancing air connectivity throughout the continent.
By gradually opening up the African skies, SAATM will enable airlines from member nations to freely access each other’s markets.
The aim of the workshop in Seychelles is to sensitise nations that have not yet signed the agreement by giving a better idea of the SAATM plans, with the hope of convincing them to be part of the project.
“The main of this workshop is to create awareness of the benefit of SAATM within these 29 member states,” said Adikiny Olwenge, an air transport and aviation expert at the COMESA.
He added that “out of the 29 COMESA member states, only 13 have signed the agreement and so we are now creating awareness for them.”
He said that the COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance of such agreements. If it was in place, it would have allowed continuous trade on the continent, rather than each country shutting down completely, which caused a lot of issues, especially for those that depend greatly on imports.
Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, imports 90 percent of its food and has in the past two years started refining its plans for food security.
Some African governments and airlines have criticised the project especially those with smaller airlines saying that the agreement would lead to a few big airlines dominating the market, thus stifling competition.
However, analysts from the Africa Development Bank have predicted that the SAATM would lead to cheaper flights, greater passenger volumes and economic benefits.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has commended the African Union for launching the single market but warned that more work would be required to effectively implement the policy.
Abdérahmane Berthé, secretary general of the African Airlines Association (AAA), said that the difficulties countries encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic have helped push for the implementation of the SAATM.