What a Unified African Sky Could Mean for the Continent

Intercontinental travel hassles will be a thing of the past | © JackyLo / Unsplash
Intercontinental travel hassles will be a thing of the past | © JackyLo / Unsplash
Photo of Carina Claassens
13 March 2018

The African continent boasts some of the most breathtaking scenery, friendliest locals and tastiest cuisine on the planet, not to mention that it’s budget-friendly. Sadly, African nationals don’t tour their own continent as often as they would like, mainly due to flight restrictions, long stopovers and tedious visa applications. Luckily, that’s all about to change: on January 28, 2018 the African Union (AU) launched the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative between 23 African countries, which will make exploring more of this beautiful continent a breeze.

What does the SAATM involve?

Thanks to the initiative, it’s likely that African nationals will start reconsidering holidays in faraway countries, and rather opt for more local travel. The SAATM makes this possible by allowing for easier connectivity between African countries via air travel, as well as reduced intercontinental air fares. The single air market also cuts out stopovers in other countries, specifically the Middle East and Europe. No more unnecessary airport holdups means travellers can fly direct to their African destination of choice.

Chobe National Park, Botswana | ©Geran De Klerk/Unsplash

At the moment, only five African countries (Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa and Nigeria) have direct flights connecting to other African countries, while travelling from other destinations can mean up to 24-hour journeys.

Bucket list destinations will be easier to reach | ©Les Anderson/Unsplash

The 23 member states that have declared their commitment to the implementation of the SAATM are Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique | ©Wynand Uys/Unsplash

Travelling made easy to boost tourism and job creation

Studies show that routes with liberal air service agreements have tended to see an increase in traffic. A good example is the relaxation of air services between South Africa and Kenya in the early 2000s, which led to an almost 70% increase in passenger traffic. As such, liberalisation of air services ultimately means an increase in tourism.

South Africans know all too well how visa applications and long stopovers can delay travel plans, but recently, many African countries have relaxed visa rules for African nationals, making travelling easier, better priced and essentially hassle-free.

Omo, Ethiopia | ©Trevor Cole/Unsplash

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), African airlines carried approximately 79 million passengers in 2015, a number that is expected to grow to 303 million by 2035, if all goes to plan. The commissioner for infrastructure and energy, Abou-Zeid Amani, says that the intra-Africa air transport market will aid the creation of 300,000 direct and two million indirect jobs. Aside from job creation, signatory countries will revitalise their economies while promoting trade, and in turn tourism will flourish.

Akwidaa, Ghana | ©Kobe Subramaniam/Unsplash