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Nigeria designates five airports for free trade, open sky

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Murtala Muhammad International Airport

Lagos, Kano new terminals to open this month
• Minister, others link aviation growth to liberal policy

The Federal Government has designated five international airports to support the implementation of both the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) agreements.

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These airports are Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos; Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja; Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA), Kano; Port Harcourt International (PHIA), Omagwa, and Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who disclosed this at the recent National Action Committee on the implementation of AfCFTA and engagement with the aviation industry, said efforts had been on to upgrade these airports’ terminals to a competitive global standard, with PHIA and NAIA already in operation.

Sirika disclosed that similar Chinese terminals in Lagos and Kano would open later this month, while Enugu will come up much later.

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Recall that the implementation of the continental free trade agreement officially took off this year, to liberalise trade among African countries. Also, SAATM aims to achieve the open sky agenda of the African Union ahead of 2063.

Sirika said that the whole essence of civil aviation was to facilitate and create efficiency in journeys through liberalisation and fair competition.

He said he had been advocating special support for the aviation industry, specifically, to fast-track systems’ upgrades in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Port Harcourt, and Enugu to match international standards.

“In our modest way in Nigeria, we have developed these five airports. We have completed Abuja, Port Harcourt and put them to use. Kano and Lagos are completed and will be put to use in March. Enugu will join in due course,” Sirika said.

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The minister was upbeat about the prospect of the liberalisation policies and their implication for aviation growth.

He said: “Aviation, as an elitist sector, is a myth. Civil aviation is for all. It connects markets and businesses, nations, cultures, history and traditions, schools and children, and so on. If SAATM is implemented, it means there will be more access to civil aviation, more connectivity, and that would bring down prices and make civil aviation affordable. Implementation of SAATM means aviation will be for all of us.”

Director for Africa at the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Funke Adeyemi, reckoned that aviation is the only sector that could traverse borders quickly with speed and safety, because of all the technical standards that are put in place since 1945.

Therefore, “we believe aviation can be an accelerator for the AfCFTA and so does African Union, which is why they have three flagship projects which they launched in 2018 and 2019 starting with SAATM.

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“What SAATM is designed to do is to create a Pan African air transport market; almost a domestic market across Africa that connects cities by air. The AfCFTA is to create one African market, which is proposed to be the largest trading bloc in the world by 2035 if it is done rightly. And of course, we have another initiative called the Free Movement Protocol for people and goods, which looks at visa and customs regimes across the continent. These three together are dedicated and ensuring the smooth facilitation of people, goods, and services across Africa to help the African Union and all Africans to realise the objectives of integration towards prosperity and unity.”

Adeyemi added that factors that would help market integration in Africa to build a sustainable system for trades, goods, and services through aviation are improved connectivity, open borders, and cargo-specific, among others.

She said without connectivity, it is going to be difficult to realise the benefits of any framework agreement be it SAATM or AfCFTA.

“Connectivity is essential in terms of the ability to connect people and goods by different means and the airlines are going to support us to do that in accelerating the growth and the implementation of AfCFTA. And it is for both passengers and cargo. Connectivity of course also brings other benefits with it such as growth in GDP and socio-economic development and so on.

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“Open border is what we talked about in terms of free movement protocols. We need the visa regime to be able to help people move around. We also need the right customs regime and the right border automation border control and so on, to support the movement of people, goods, and services to the development, growth, and sustainability of African economy as we begin to recover from this pandemic.”

Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu, added that with a population of 1.3 billion and Gross domestic Product (GDP) of $2.6 trillion on the continent, the open trade agreement would offer a huge potential for continental aviation.

“Being the dominant market in Western, Central Africa and the continent, Nigeria has excellent opportunities and potential that has been largely ignored or not exploited over the years.”

“It is a significant opportunity for Nigerian airline operators to go into the cargo business and transport these goods massively and in a few hours to their destination countries. It will be cheaper and it gets there faster, which will lead to the growth of this market.”

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