Unlocking travel in Africa

(Photo: Anteneh Aklilu)

Full implementation of realizing the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) across the continent would generate significant economic benefits for Ethiopia by creating 21,000 new jobs and adding USD 81.8 million to the GDP, states the International Air transport Association /IATA/.
“SAATM is the solution to unlocking travel within the African continent and in the post-pandemic it will provide an even more important economic boost to the continent,” said Kamil Alawadhi, IATA’s Regional Vice President for Africa and Middle East during his visit to Ethiopia. Kamil also added that the air liberalization allows new carrier to enter the market and existing carriers to better respond to demand, resulting in lower fares for passengers. Moreover, this will enhance air connectivity and more travellers will be able to access air service.
During his three days stay, the vice president visited Ethiopian airlines – seeing its day to day activities, met with the management team of Ethiopian airlines and with the ministry of finance and the ministry of transport.
“We congratulate Ethiopia for the positive steps it has taken to promote travel and air service connectivity throughout the pandemic. This includes accepting vaccinated travellers without restrictions, managing the cost of PCR testing to ensure it is affordable and implementing a testing regime which accepts both PCR and rapid antigen tests. These measures should put Ethiopia on a faster track to recovery, not just for air transport but across the economy,” said Kamil.
Even though Ethiopia is performing above the African continent’s average demand for air transport services and has made progress in the recovery, IATA) called on the government of Ethiopia to continue its focus on maintaining efficient air connectivity amid the COVID-19 crisis. “This will place Ethiopia in a strong position to weather the crisis and speed up the eventual industry and economic recovery,” said the vice president.
According to the assessment of IATA, allowing the full liberalization of all inter Africa air market could increase the overall GDP by 0.09 present /81.8 million dollars/, increasing the traffic by 42 per cent.
According to IATA, passenger traffic to, from and within Ethiopia in June 2021 was 30% less than in June 2019, a significant improvement on the 47% drop for January 2021 compared to January 2019. Ethiopia’s June performance was well ahead of the -66.6% (compared to 2019) recorded for the African continent. Passenger demand however is expected to recover to pre-COVID levels by 2023 stated the association.
As part of its key priorities to support and sustain a recovery, IATA argues to strength: Digitalization of health certificates to avoid queuing and crowding airports, and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Nations, governments, politicians, and business must cooperate through COVAX so that everyone gets access to the vaccines they require, no matter where they are,” said Alawadhi.
Besides that, the vice president argues for the ‘Releasing of Blocked Funds’ for better growth of the aviation industry, “Approximately $59 million (as of August) in airline funds are being blocked from repatriation in Ethiopia,” said Alawadhi, adding, “Resolving this quickly is critical for airlines to continue providing connectivity needed to sustain jobs and energize economies as they recover from COVID-19.”
Apart from the lack of equitable distribution and vaccination rates across Africa, the continent and its people are vulnerable and the economic recovery from COVID-19 is at risk. Moreover, with more countries lifting travel restrictions for those vaccinated, the freedom of movement will be limited until vaccines are universally available. With less than 1% of Ethiopia’s population fully vaccinated, the challenge is particularly acute.