Co-operation among nations and implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) needed to unlock social and economic benefits, says IATA.

Countries in Africa should implement the open skies program without worrying about what others are doing, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said.

Raphael Kuuchi, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa told delegates at the AviaDev conference in Cape Town that African aviation is at risk of falling behind if states delay the creation of open skies while waiting for others to implement the program first.

“For instance, at IATA we still believe something can be done to bring air transport in South Africa up to a higher level. We think the industry is still punching below its weight,” said Kuuchi.

IATA has plans to undertake a perception analysis study to understand where the industry is lacking in South Africa and across the continent.

IATA believes something can be done to bring air transport in South Africa up to a higher level—The industry is still punching below its weight

Kuuchi also spoke about the role the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) has to play in creating economic and social benefits in a region that only has 10% of the population using air transport.

The RVP for Africa said the SAATM's plan to create a single unified air transport market for African airlines can boost local economies through increased intra-African trading.

“In this way, African airlines will have a bigger 'local market' that can keep them on a similar competitive advantage compared to European airlines, for instance, which operate in a single European market,” he told delegates.

Kuuchi added that for SAATM to work, the industry in Africa “must go beyond talk” and take the necessary steps to realise the program and bring it to fruition.

Necessary measures include incorporating SAATM regulations into domestic aviation regulations; informing stakeholders about SAATM; and setting up clear criteria on how airlines can access local markets.

To date, 28 countries have agreed to SAATM since it was launched in 2018, but only half have signed a Memorandum of Implementation pledging to unlock the benefits of aviation in their respective states.