Bamako reduces the chances of Air Sahel ever taking to the air
Wanted by the five members of the G5 Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad), the project to create the Air Sahel community airline is no longer in a hurry. In the making since 2015, its fate now seems to be in the past. And the recent friction between Bamako and the other members make us fear for its future, which is very similar to the stillborn project of Air CEMAC.
On Sunday 15 May, the Malian authorities announced their unilateral withdrawal from the G5 Sahel. In a statement signed by government spokesman Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, Bamako justified its decision by "the opposition of some G5 Sahel states" to taking over the presidency of the organisation due to the political situation in the country.
"No legal text of the G5 Sahel provides for restrictions against a member state on the basis of its national political situation," the statement said, adding that "Mali decides to withdraw from all the bodies and instances of the G5 Sahel, including the joint force. The Malian authorities believe that the G5 Sahel is now subservient to "an extra-regional state desperately seeking to isolate Mali". This is a thinly veiled reference to France, the main interlocutor of the G5 Sahel countries, and whose relations with Bamako are at a diplomatic low.
In the wake of Mali's decision, the entire G5 Sahel structure has lost an important member, which will have the effect of disrupting or even slowing down several community projects, including the Air Sahel company.
Air Sahel... a project now relegated to second place
The Air Sahel project has been relegated to second place among the priority initiatives of the G5 Sahel, which is in the midst of restructuring. Two years ago, it was no longer on the agenda of the ordinary and extraordinary sessions of the heads of state of the member countries. Even the vital meeting of ministers in charge of aviation, scheduled to take place last year in Nouakchott, did not take place.
Yet this meeting was supposed to focus, among other things, on the technical validation of a study commissioned last year by the G5 Sahel Permanent Secretariat on the development of a general scheme for opening up the airspace of member countries.
This study, financed by the European Union, was won by Malian lawyer Issa KONTE. Started on September 23, 2020, the former deputy director general of Mali Airports and chargé de mission to the Cabinet of the Prime Minister of Mali submitted his copy on November 30. This is accompanied by the draft of the necessary regulatory texts; the operational calendar for implementation; the institutional steering mechanism; and an analysis of the risks and the mechanism for their mitigation.
According to the document consulted by NewsAero, there is no longer any mention of the "immediate" establishment of the Community carrier, but rather of the adoption of "transitional provisions for the opening up of airspace to enable existing companies to cover all Member States".
In reality, the 5 member countries do not show a convergence of views on the format that the future carrier will take, whose technical-economic and financial study was validated on 28 September 2018 in N'Djamena at the end of a meeting of the Committee of Ministers in charge of civil aviation.
If Niger remains one of the last supporters for the proposal of dissolution-absorption of existing companies, Mali for its part shows more divergence and its withdrawal from the G5 Sahel confirms it even more. Since 2019, Bamako has initiated steps to enter the capital of the new local carrier Sky Mali, which started operations on 29 September 2020 and of which the Emirati investment holding company, AL SAYEGH GROUP (ASG), is currently the sole shareholder.
Even Chad, which positions itself as the helmsman and policeman of the region, is not on the same wavelength. As proof, only three days after the validation of the techno-economic and financial study of Air Sahel, on October 1, 2018, the country launched the activities of its national company - now at a standstill - Tchadia Airlines in which Ethiopian Airlines holds 49% of the shares.
The carrier then joined Mauritania Airlines - which has been loss-making since its creation in 2010 - and the doyenne Air Burkina, which is financially asphyxiated and currently being acquired by the private American group African Global Development (AGD).
However, following the 4 proposals formulated in the technical-economic study, financed in 2017 by the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (BADEA) and carried out by the office of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the ministers in charge of civil aviation of the G5 Sahel countries recommended "a fifth intermediate option consisting of the creation of a multinational company with a new AOC (Air Operator Certificate) between the five countries. The existing companies would then be absorbed into the new multinational company according to a scheme to be defined.
This solitary and dispersed approach is reducing the chances of a mutualisation for the establishment of the much desired community carrier.
In the footsteps of Air CEMAC...
The fate of Air Sahel is similar to that of Air CEMAC (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Chad), whose sumptuous headquarters were inaugurated in Brazzaville in 2013, whose launch budget was set and whose director general was appointed. And all this without a single plane.
Between trials and tribulations, the project was finally abandoned following the decision of the Heads of State conferences of 6 May 2015 in Libreville, Gabon and 31 October 2017 in N'Djamena, Chad. On 3 August 2018 in Douala, Cameroon, the six Transport Ministers declared the definitive liquidation of Air CEMAC and the repeal of all related community texts.
The ministers, acting in their capacity as shareholders, also decided that the funds constituting the liquidation bonus, amounting to CFAF 7.569 billion as at 25 July 2018, should be allocated to the BEAC under Window 1 of the Community Development Fund.