As calls for the liberalisation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) rage on, airline operators and experts in the country have thrown their weight behind the call, saying the development is crucial in as far as incentivising the aviation industry is concerned.
The liberalisation of just between a few African countries is estimated to create over 155 100 jobs in aviation, tourism and the wider economy. In turn, that leads to increased air services and route competition, resulting in lower fares, according to a study by InterVISTAS.
Other than this, passengers are also expected to benefit from a 75 percent increase in direct connections, fare savings of 25-35 percent, greater convenience and significant time saving.
An insider in aviation sector, Tony Chimpukuso, who is former tariff and industry manager at Air Malawi, said in an interview with Business News, Malawi could fail to realise meaningful achievements on some basic opportunities in the aviation sector if it fails to liberalise its market.
“Malawi should open up to this development because air transport is indispensable for tourism such that enhancing air connectivity can help raise productivity by encouraging investment and innovation, thereby improving business operations and efficiency,” he said.
Malawian Airlines public relation officer Joseph Josiah in a written response to questions on Tuesday said operationalization of the initiative is crucial pointing out that the airline would seize the opportunity so as to maximize the benefits accruing from the single air transport market arrangement.
He said SAATM is a step in the right direction for the continent as it will open up the skies and boost cross-border movement of people and goods within the continent. SAATM offers huge potential for airlines to tap in other markets within the continent with minimum or no hurdles at all.
“We however cautioned governments to level the playing field for home-grown airlines to thrive saying there is need to take deliberate steps to ensure uniformity of policies to see to it that what is happening in countries is the same,” he said.
Speaking separately, a senior official at one of the country’s airline operators said there should be no reservations for Malawi if the country is to realise the great potential it has in the tourism sector and investment opportunities.
He said the country must focus more on what it will gain as opposed to what individual carriers are going to benefit.
“There are more opportunities than challenges as liberalisation will create more demand for travel. It will be easier, faster and cheaper to connect from one point to the other on the continent.
“Our airline is very prepared because with our global network, we will be able to move customers from one point to the other on the existing network using Malawi for the fifth freedom,” he said.
Ministry of Transport and Public Works spokesperson James Chakwera while pointing out that Malawi is, in principle, for air transport liberalisation as it already formulated in the National Transport Policy said it wants to ensure that necessary institutional and legal frameworks are in place at the international level before any significant strides.
“As a country, we would also need to domesticate the laws governing the liberalisation in our national laws and that has not been done yet.
“Operationally, however, we are ready to move forward as we have a national carrier to take advantage of the arrangement. It is just necessary that some form of regulation is maintained to ensure fair practices because even a liberalised market needs some form of regulation,” he said.
Chakwera admitted that the opportunities are that airlines are enormous the local said the challenge is that if not properly done weaker airlines could fall off and, therefore, deny the market the necessary and healthy competition.
This far, 31 out of 54 African countries, have signed the SAATM.