Ato Girma Wake (GW) has been a hugely influential figure in African aviation for over 50 years, including a historically successful period as CEO of Ethiopian Airlines.
In January 2018, we both witnessed the signing of the SAATM (Single African Air Transport Market) at the Headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa.
So how does someone who's seen it all before consider its chance of success?
JH: Intra-African connectivity as a % of total regional capacity has fallen to its lowest level in 10 years at just 43% (it was 46.6% in 2007).This compares to Europe at 67%, ASEAN at 79% and North America at 78% where the airspace is liberalised. Can you see this picture changing?
GW: It will change as more African countries realize the true value of connectivity and liberalize their airspace and start trading with their neighbours. Abolition of visa requirements or at least making it available on arrival for Africans and if possible for other travellers in Africa will help to grow the traffic between African countries.The Aviation sector needs to do more work with African governments to recognize Aviation"s strategic importance and support for the economic and social development objectives across the continent.
JH: Do you think open skies for Africa is a positive move?
GW: Countries and continents that adopted open sky policies before Africa have benefited from it. We are not experimenting with something that has not been tried before. It has been proved useful again and again in North America, Europe and in ASEAN countries. We have even seen it in Africa where countries through bilateral agreements have opened their skies to one another. Traffic growth has been very good. We should,therefore,have no doubt that SAATM will have a positive.impact on the progress of the continent.
JH: SAATM has only been signed by just under half of all African countries. What do you think is holding back those that have not signed?
GW: It is partly due to lack of awareness of the economic and social benefits of Aviation to Africa in general and to each country and region in particular. Old protectionist habits take time to die but it will gradually die for sure. The attitude of some African airlines and the lack of cooperation and trust between them has also been the cause for slow reaction to SAATM .We leave that to AFRAA to work on their members .In general, I expect more African countries to join SAATM in 2018.
JH: How would you structure this to ensure the best chance of success?
GW: AFCAC (the executive Agency of AU on YD) has to be strengthened- they need qualified and committed staff in the right numbers (adequate coverage of the job). More importantly the position of The Secretary General which is vacant, should be filled urgently. You can not fly a civilian airline without a pilot. this is an important AU project and should not be left in the hands of an interim leader .
In African Union Commission (AUC) there must be a dedicated person to coordinate between various bodies such as AFCAC, The RECs, AFRAA and within the AU itself and the ministerial council.We all know the Commissioners office handles a lot of infrastructure projects for the continent and if it does not dedicate at least a desk officer to coordinate and follow up SAATM implementation we will again face delays as in the past.I hope this has already been solved but I raise it just in case it is overlooked.
A clear decision should also be made on the arbitration mechanism. RECs should be properly briefed of their supporting role to AFCAC Civil aviation departments of each SAATM member country should adopt SAATM policies and procedures in their respective manuals and guidelines for granting of traffic rights to airlines of member countries.
JH: How do you think the African aviation market will look 10 years from now?
GW: If YD is implemented successfully and visa rules are relaxed to support unhindered flow of traffic, we should see a very healthy economic development in Africa. This in turn will create more viable airlines that can better serve the continent and its people. In 10 years we are likely to see a strong profitable air transport system in Africa-God Willing.