No fewer than 23 African heads of state and governments, at the last general assembly of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, approved the establishment of a Single African Air Transport Market(SAATM) to fully implement the Yamoussoukro Decision in which all barriers in the African airspace are obliterated for all airlines within the continent of Africa.

Prior to the ratification of SAATM by the African leaders, the African Civil Aviation Commission(AFCAC) has been given the mandate to ensure that it is carried out throughout Africa. At the sensitisation workshop on the commencement of the Single African Air Transport Market to stakeholders in the Nigerian sector, AFCAC Secretary General, Ms Iyabo Sosina said: ”As we are all aware, the better connected a country is by air, the greater is its ability to unlock the economic and social benefits that air transport can deliver through the mobility of people and goods to the travelling public, air carriers, airports, other allied service providers, the economy of States and the continent as a whole.”

She outlined the benefits as including :increased choice of carriers, convenience and ease of travel, better connectivity, time savings, more commercial freedom to wider route networks, more frequencies, hence economy of scale and density, better aircraft utilisation, flexibility and reduced cost operations, creation of a larger market for African carriers and improved access to capital, more flexible commercial arrangements such as alliances, code shares, franchises, interlining, merger and acquisitions among African carriers, increased and efficient utilisation of airport facilities and airspace, enhanced revenue and generation from passenger service charges, increased landing and parking fees, enhanced navigation charges, improved non-aeronautical revenues, boost in tourism and trade, tourism accounts for as much as7% of all exports in Africa a 58% of its service exports,51% of all international tourists arrive at their destinations, cross-border investment opportunities, employment generation, growth and stimulation of trade and tourism, free movement of people, goods and services, attainment of African integration and increased in revenue through taxes.

She told the gathering:” As you can see, African Open Skies creates more opportunities and ecomomies of scale. When African airlines are empowered by this realisation, economic development on the continent will be improved.

From the foregoing, Nigeria being the most populous country in Africa, stands a good chance of deriving maximum benefit from SAATM if the existing airlines shore up their fleet and raise the standard of their services to the satisfaction of the consumers.  She has citizens that are itinerant. A visit to all the country’s international airports, one sees Nigerians arriving and departing to different destinations within and outside Africa with the few available airlines.

Now that the restrictions by some African countries to fellow African carriers have now consigned to the annals of history by the twenty-three countries, Nigerian aviation industry is expected to flourish as more airlines that are in the process of getting their Air Operator Certificate(AOC) are likely to come into being while the existing ones, in order to benefit from the market will have to improve the quality of their services. The travellers will be better off, get their money’s worth. For now, there are very few vacancies for the engagement of new personnel as a result of high cost of operation. There is a ray of hope, that the skilled, semi and unskilled labour have   bright prospect of securing employment in the aviation sector because of core aviation and ancillary job opportunities that will spring up and expand in due course.

There were discordant tunes at the sensitisation workshop from the President, Airline Operators of Nigeria(AON) and some other people who felt that the timing was not appropriate. Their bone of contention was that the country was not ripe for it, and that SAATM is being championed and indirectly forced on Nigeria by some big African carriers that stand to benefit from it because of their strong viable airlines that are well supported by their governments.

We ask, when are the airlines in Nigeria going to be ready? SAATM is not a bolt from the blues. The plan for the establishment of a Single African Air Transport Market started many years ago, does that mean that Nigerian airlines have no concrete plans in all these years on how to fit in into the new arrangement? In the continent, Nigerians are known to be dogged and rugged. Our airlines must rise up to the challenges. The country has all the natural endowment in the right proportion that makes it a beautiful bride that other countries are wooing her for survival. Dr. Harold Demuren, then, Director General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), at an aviation seminar in Dar El Salam, Tanzania, disclosed that 60% of the profit accruing to Ethiopian Airlines globally is derived from the Nigerian route. Up till today, nobody has countered the former NCAA DG. How then can we Nigerians be sitting on a gold mine and watching other people coming to explore it? If we do not remove ourselves from the cocoon of professional complainants, other smaller countries, by virtue of their size, and should be jittery with SAATM will see some Nigerians as unserious group of people.

Dr. Bernard Olumuyiwa Aliu, President of International Civil Aviation Organisation(ICAO) Council gives his impression” This new and more liberalized air services framework stands to deliver tremendous new economic benefits and potential to this continent by enhancing regional and global connectivity, continent wide air transport, has continued to foster economic growth in Africa in terms of enhanced travel and tourism and other vital trade activities.”

 We urge the active, serious minded Nigerian airlines operators that have business acumen, that have braced the storm over the years, in spite of the excruciating operating environment, they have increased their fleet of aircraft expanded their route network and staff, to remain steadfast and register their presence in all the 23 countries that have approved the Single African Air Transport Market. Lamentation is not known to be a tool to combat challenges.