ASEAN inches towards a single aviation market

Singapore Airlines Plane Taking off

The single aviation market will benefit ASEAN citizens, but it is not happening fast enough.

By Joelyn Chan

Back in November 2007, the ASEAN Air Transport Working Group put forth a major aviation policy plan for the region. Known as ASEAN Single Aviation Market (ASAM) or Asean Open Sky Agreement,  the policy sought to deepen integration across ASEAN nations in all aspects of the aviation sector by 2015, including air services, aviation safety and security, and air traffic management.

ASAM was ratified by ASEAN member states in April 2016, but implementation remains sluggish. Year after year, transport ministers from all 10-member countries meet and ink more deals but fail to deliver meaningful progress.

What would a single aviation market mean for ASEAN citizens?

Through increased competition, a single aviation market would bring cheaper flights and greater flight options. With unified set of rules and increased flexibility, it would also be easier for airlines to operate and expand within the ASEAN region.

For instance, according to Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook: “This protocol (Protocol 4) allows an airline to serve two or more points in another ASEAN member state on the same route as part of an international journey”. In layman’s terms, a Singapore carrier will soon be able to stop at two different cities in Thailand before making its way back.

The ASAM would also bring economic benefits to ASEAN nations. The paper entitled Economic Benefits of ASEAN Single Aviation Market, estimated the policy’s impact on gross domestic product (GDP) could range between US$125 million to US$4.32 billion by year 2030.

The bigger aviation markets of Indonesia and the Philippines stand to haul in the lion’s share of the financial benefits.  

Philippines Airlines Boeing 777 -300
Philippines Airlines Boeing 777 -300.
Photo: Bill Abbott

Protocol after protocol, ASEAN trudges towards greater air connectivity

November 2019 marked the 25th ASEAN Transport Ministers (ATM) Meeting. Held in Vietnam, ASEAN ministers signed two protocols recognising each other’s flight simulation services and supporting ancillary services.

The move represents progress towards an integrated aviation industry but still falls short of the inauguration of a single aviation market.

The protocols signed during the 25th ATM will likely take a year or more to come into force. A year earlier, at the 24th ATM, ministers signed Protocol 4, which relates to co-terminal rights. July 2019’s Asean Transport Instruments and Status of Ratification document revealed the protocol was still not in effect. Only Singapore and Thailand had ratified the protocol.

There is a consistent trend of slower ratification in less developed member states. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Until the protocol is in force across the region, the faster member states will have to wait.

ASAM was a bold ambition from the start

ASEAN has been making small steps towards bringing ASAM to fruition. ASAM removed and superseded previous agreements among member states. It has also standardised provisions to create a unified set of aviation rules across the region.

The bloc now allows carriers to operate with greater ease and flexibility. There are also agreements to enforce cross border regulations.

ASAM is a key strategic goal under the ASEAN Transport Strategic Plan for 2016-2025. With a greater emphasis placed on ASAM, and faster legislative efforts, ASEAN could pull together a single aviation market. Governments need to look beyond their national interests, specifically the interests of their flag carriers, and start working together as a region.

For air liberalisation to become a reality, work needs to be done in supporting areas such as security, technology, human resources and more. ASEAN has to brace itself for stumbling stones in this long and arduous process.