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Fast track SAATM implementation to boost African Economic Growth


Speeding up the implementation of the African Union’s Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) project would boost the continent’s air cargo carriers and support economic development across Africa, say stakeholders.

Air cargo industry stakeholders were speaking during a webinar entitled “Africa – Future forward – what does it take for Africa to create a competitive landscape for air cargo?” hosted by transport logistics world-wide and partner Messe Muenchen South Africa, who will stage air cargo Africa 2023.

They applauded the goals of the SAATM project, which aims to support the liberalization of Africa’s civil aviation and create a single unified air transport market in Africa.  Although at least 32 countries have committed to implement SAATM, stakeholders participating in the webinar said the agreement had to be implemented to have impact.

Peter Musola, Manager – Cargo, Commercial at Kenya Airways, said: “Africa needs to move from intent to execution. It is important for more countries to ratify these policies and for the continent to move to liberalization. Collaboration between African carriers is critical so we aren’t muscled out by foreign carriers.”

Bongiwe Pityi-Vokwana, General Manager of OR Tambo International Airport, agreed, saying that African airlines and governments needed to collaborate to develop intra African connectivity, expand routes and address air cargo infrastructure gaps, since the industry is a catalyst for continental economic growth.  She noted that the air cargo sector offered a huge speed to market advantage, which could boost growth in sectors such as fresh produce and flowers.

Sanjeev Gadhia, CEO and co-founder of Astral Aviation, said that in addition to implementing SAATM, Africa needed to invest more in cargo infrastructure, particularly in secondary airports across the continent. “It is also important to reduce or remove the taxes on fuel and aviation services,” he said. “Africa still the most expensive place in the world for aviation, which makes the whole value proposition very expensive.”

 David King, Project Manager at Cape Town Air Access, a division of WESGRO, said the importance of air cargo infrastructure had been highlighted during the lockdown when restrictions on passenger flights had forced Western Cape importers and exporters to send goods by road to O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg. “We have industries with huge air cargo potential in the Western Cape – and the rest of South Africa – and improved air cargo capabilities would grow exports of fresh produce, seafood and wine, for example. We need to position ourselves correctly now to ensure that our primary and supporting infrastructure can meet the current and future needs of air cargo in the province, country, and continent,” he said.

The impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic had had a significant impact on the air cargo industry, they said, but had also revealed the sector’s strengths and growth opportunities.

Pityi-Vokwana said: “In South Africa, air cargo volumes have steadily increased since April 2020, despite lockdowns. The bulk of the air cargo volumes were initially channeled through O.R. Tambo international, but volumes are now also increasing at other airports. Despite occasional operational constraints, our staff and service providers and staff did their best to handle cargo as efficiently as possible, and it highlighted our ability to coordinate complex operations in times of crisis. During this time, African airlines have shown their ability to adapt; taking measures such as cabin loading and the conversion of passenger aircraft.”

Musola said that in Kenya, the pandemic had tested capacity: “These have been exciting days for us.   There was a big requirement for supplies to keep moving; so we kept our two regional freighters moving and within a week we also got permission to operate our Dreamliners as cargo flights. We have managed to run 1000 flights, keeping PPE moving across the continent and cushioning the impact for our horticultural industry, as many foreign operators pulled out of our market, leaving a huge hole in capacity. But we are stretched to the limit at the moment and we are currently in talks with our Board on how we can improve and increase capacity.”

Gadhia noted that capacity would have to be stepped up across the continent, should a Covid-19 vaccine become available.  “In addition to having a collaborative strategy, we also need a resilient strategy. We need to focus on the huge task ahead – the transportation and distribution of the vaccine in Africa. Foreign airlines may not have the same passion and determination African carriers will have to reach all parts of Africa – including landlocked and inaccessible areas,” he said.

Pan African collaboration and growth opportunities will be among the topics under discussion at air cargo Africa 2022, to be presented by Messe Muenchen South Africa in from 21 – 23 February, 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 2019, over 2,000 air cargo stakeholders, over 170 exhibitors and 646 conference delegates gathered at Emperor’s Palace in Kempton Park for the fifth edition of air cargo Africa.  For more information, and to reserve exhibition space at air cargo Africa 2023, go to

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