How national airlines will drive SAATM, AfCFTA agenda in Africa-Illitrus Ahmadu


  • Nigeria, others spearhead national carriers’ revival
  • 15 nations in pact to ease travel restrictions




For Africa to reap abundantly from the gains of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), countries in the continent are reviving their state-backed carriers.

Amid the challenges, African nations are undaunted and have continued to make investments in new national airlines to take advantage of the new economic policies of the Africa Union (AU).

While Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Chad among others have already started their airlines, Nigeria and Ghana are some of the nations determined to revive their national or flag carrier airlines. Some of the latest attempts, however, involve partnerships with the private sector—in contrast to the public model many believe led to earlier flag carriers’ failure.

Just recently, 15 African countries agreed to further unify the continent by easing travel restrictions. Dubbed the SAATM, this initiative has won 15 signatures from 15 African countries that have all agreed to merge to some degree their aviation markets.

The 15 countries using their national carriers to drive this initiative are Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Ghana in anticipation of its new airline, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria in anticipation of its national carrier or any other willing private airlines, Senegal, Togo and Zambia.

This argument and others centered around the national carrier for Nigeria dominated discourse at the ongoing strategic stakeholders’ retreat in the aviation industry with the theme, “Re-establishment of Nigeria’s National Carrier-Aviation Unions’ Perspective”, organized by the Joint Consultative and Negotiating Council (JCNC), an amalgam of four existing unions in Owerri, Imo State.

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Illitrus Ahmadu

National President of the Air Transport Senior Staff Services Association (ATSSSAN) and Assistant General Manager, Legal at the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) Ilitrus Ahmadu said national carriers play very vital roles in actualizing the objectives of the AU towards full liberalization of air transport in Africa.

Ahmadu is one of the many union leaders and their members in the aviation industry that have thrown their weight behind the establishment of a national carrier for Nigeria amid angst over the allegedly orchestrated plans by some of the country’s airlines to abort the dream of birthing Nigeria Air through judicial processes said, “Why I said the national carrier will drive that agenda in Nigeria is because since 2004 when Nigeria Airways, the industry has been in the hands of private operators and our experience over time is that they have not been able to consummate up to ten percent of the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) that Nigeria has with other countries. That puts us in a very disadvantageous position in Africa”.

He noted that within the context of the SAATM agenda, West African states that had national airlines went down. They have either resuscitated their national carrier or are in the process of doing that.

He explained that most African countries are resuscitating their ‘dead’ national airlines because they had identified that SAATM is a government project and the key actors to drive the African aviation policy after many governments in the continent realized the failings of key actors in the private sector in Africa.

“Consequently, they have resolved that it is imperative at this time for them to resuscitate their national airlines for them to fully take advantage of the opportunities inherent in SAATM and AfCFTA”.

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“The fact of the matter is that we are moving towards full liberalization which says there wouldn’t be any restrictions on first, second, third, fourth, and especially the fifth freedom traffic right. So, we are looking at the African market becoming a domestic market. With weak carriers in Nigeria today who have all the opportunities, yet they have not been able to take advantage of these opportunities; I think we have to praise the government for resuscitating a national airline so that we can take advantage of that”.

On the argument that Nigeria does not need a national carrier or government-backed airlines, the ATSSSAN President rubbished the idea, saying, “One thing that I have seen from my experience in this industry is the fact that while I can’t tell you in all 100% that government airlines will fare better is that there are models that have failed, there are models that have crumbled”.

“But I can assure you that why we are saying this is because there have been proven failures to utilize the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA) and the designations that have been given to the private airlines and because of that and considering the fact that governments are the key players in SAATM and considering the size of the market in West Africa and entire Africa at large, with the full commitment anchored on the fact that government is adopting a new model to fronting a new carrier. It will be successful”.

“f you look at the 2001 policy, and 2013 policy, the government had resolved that it is going to adopt a PPP in infrastructure and other enabling institutions in aviation. It is not going to be 100% government-owned. The government is saying, let us have a little stake, bring in experts from the private sector who have the competence and track record of performance to partner with us so that we can drive the project and who is better in Africa if not Ethiopian Airlines”.

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He disclosed that Ethiopian Airlines has proven to be a formidable airline while praising the deal that threw Ethiopian Airlines up as a major stakeholder in the Nigeria Air project, further describing it as, “The best deal. I think that project will work for Nigeria”.

Nigeria is a very large market that everyone wants to exploit. The lack of a strong national airline or strong flag carrier airlines from Nigeria, not a few said would make it extremely difficult to go into the countries in the continent to exploit the same way they do ours.

Ahmadu expressed optimism that Nigeria will maximise the benefits of these opportunities with the emergence of its own national carrier.

The SAATM provides for the full liberation of intra-African exercise of first, second, third, fourth, and fifth freedom traffic rights for passenger and freight air services by eligible airlines.

The extent to which these initiatives benefit the African continent is dependent on the political will among its leaders, understanding, and steadfastness on the side of operators as they compete with one another in the industry.

Wole Shadare